First order of business: by the time you read this Albert Pujols will have been credited with his 400th home run on Baseball Reference, which means that it will really have happened. I don't have anything valedictory to say, except that for anyone else to break up Stan Musial's longstanding hold on the Cardinals' extra-base hit records—725 doubles, 177 triples, 475 home runs—would seem somehow wrong.
For a lot of players—I'm looking at Jim Edmonds, who would make my offseason if he decided to limp back here for the last nine next year—400 home runs is a career-making occasion, but for Albert Pujols it's just 400 down.
I feel fatigued by all this. It's not that the losses are killing me, because I'm pretty inured to that by now—it's that they're losing in a way that's both really unique and easily predictable. These labyrinthine comebacks, the failures in the back of the bullpen, the failures in the front of the bullpen.
Randy Winn swinging from the right side like an action figure with a few joints too many for a crucial RBI—and lest it get lost in our 2010 jeremiads, the most anonymous member of the team had what would have been a wonderfully memorable game if it had turned out the Cardinals' way. (Before yesterday's game Winn, incidentally, had had Baseball-Reference's WAR pegged at 0.0 for at least a week—most recently zero batting runs, one baserunning run, -4 fielding runs, -1 for position, and +3 for replacement level.)
There are only so many things to say about a team that loses so creatively when you've taken your blogger oath and forsworn all unverifiable, unsourced claims toward a failure of team vitality or attitude or anything else that could be cured with a patent medicine, possibly Dr. La Russa's Indignation Fortifier And Mistrust Reinforcing Serum. Assume this team doesn't have a crippling character flaw that Joe Strauss will presently be pointing out—and as a member of the non-press, with no access at all, I'd have to assume it didn't exist even if I thought it might, because I have no way of knowing—and you're left with some bad decisions, some bad play, and a lot of awful coincidence.
Specifically, though, there are a few things worth talking about. For one thing: Felipe Lopez should apparently never be playing shortstop. Somebody made this point in the comments: If he can't play third base, what's he doing playing short? Brendan Ryan's defense, especially now that he's hitting (maybe there's something to the way people vote for Gold Gloves, after all) has been even more impressive than last year, when we didn't see it coming, and given Lopez's hitting problems the Cardinals can't afford to lose it.
His catch against Adam Kennedy to save the game is worth sitting through a 15-second Blackberry ad to watch again, especially for FSN Midwest's camera angle on the replay; Kennedy does his little loopy swing, Ryan reacts almost immediately, and then goes into a weirdly athletic sprinting dive almost from the moment he leaves short. It's like he's being oriented toward the ball by gyroscope.
I wasn't very excited to see Ryan Franklin out for a second inning, either, but having not done the research on relief pitchers and second innings I can only attribute that to a bias against Franklin's style and history of pitching, since he's actually had a pretty good year to date. He's maintained the ultra-low walk rate that characterized his excellent 2007 and 2009 without falling, yet, into the walk-filled morass that characterized the second halves of his excellent 2007 and 2009. Which is good!
But really this game—and this season—was as much about the things the Cardinals couldn't (or shouldn't) plan for as it was what they failed to execute. Chris Carpenter gave up six runs; Matt Holliday was nearly injured and Albert Pujols nearly injured himself.
Pull the frame back out and it's the same story for the season as a whole: The Cardinals have fallen short in a lot of ways, but there are only so many contingency plans a team can have for third base, or wins a team can ascribe to the hypothetical 2010 Reds.
Anyway: four games. It can be done. It should start with Jaime Garcia up against Scott Olsen, who's actually coping pretty well with his vanishing strikeout rate. (Tomorrow's lede today, hopeful dep't: But not well enough!!)