Septembers Spent Swooning

I have a cold, and it's pissing me off. Just a garden-variety head cold, nothing too bad at all, but I get cranky when I'm sick. Don't talk to me, don't look at me, don't bother me at all until I feel better. Some people like to be taken care of when they're ill; I'm the exact opposite. I'm not pleasant to be around when I'm sick, to be honest. So feeling one for Aaron: mildly grumpy. 

I'm also feeling rather pleasantly sad at the moment, because I just finished watching the first series of Darker Than Black on DVD today, and I always feel a little sad when I finish something. (Well, plus it just happens to be one of those series where damn near everyone ends up dead at the end, so there's that too, in that it's actually sad as well.) It's a good show; if you happen to get a chance to catch it I recommend it. Feeling two for Aaron: pleasantly melancholic. 

As for the subject of this blog, the St. Louis Cardinals, I find myself inexplicably irritated. I resigned myself to this team falling short of a playoff berth weeks ago, as they just continued playing shit baseball as the season moved closer and closer to the end and the weather moved closer to autumn. I couldn't understand why they were playing so poorly, but it seemed inevitable they would. So hey, it just isn't our year, I thought. That's okay. Frustrating, sure, but you pays your money and you takes your chances. Sometimes life just doesn't work out the way you would like, and the baseball season is no exception. 

But now, as I'm held hostage by this team and their continuing efforts to sink all the way back to .500 it's just flat-out pissing me off. I know it's much too late to make the playoffs, but can we not even make a decent showing at the end? Do we really have to continue losing game after game after game to beatable teams? 

This team looked like 2004 to begin the season, then turned into 2006 somewhere along the way. Unfortunately they now look as hopeless as the 2007 bunch. Nostalgia value aside, I'm not sure the Cards' new Decade Revue Plan is working for me. Feeling three for Aaron: tired of losing and seriously sick of watching shitty play. 

One of the narratives of Tony La Russa's career is that his constant lineup shuffling and juggling and playing of bench players keeps the whole team fresh throughout the season. His bench players get enough playing time to stay in game shape (see: Aaron Miles hitting in StL vs. Aaron Miles hitting in Chicago), and his everyday players get enough rest to stay healthy and strong all the way to the end. The result is a team that performs at a high level straight through the season even as other contenders struggle to maintain their energy levels down the stretch. 

The problem with this narrative isn't just that it's complete crap, it's that it is literally the furthest possible thing from the truth yet is still repeated ad infinitum. It is, to say the least, frustrating. 

Here are the September records for Cardinal teams since 2000: 

 

  • 2000: 19-9, .679 WP
  • 2001: 17-5, .773 WP
  • 2002: 21-6, .778 WP
  • 2003: 13-13, .500 WP
  • 2004: 16-12, .571 WP
  • 2005: 13-13, .500 WP
  • 2006: 12-16, .429 WP
  • 2007: 13-18, .419 WP
  • 2008: 12-13, .480 WP
  • 2009: 13-13, .500 WP
  • 2010: 5-8, .385 WP (so far)

 

So perhaps, once upon a time, the narrative really was true; Tony La Russa did indeed finish the season ripping through their opponents in the early days of the last decade. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case since 2002. Even in 2004, when the Cardinals posted their last winning record for the month of September, that .571 winning percentage followed up months of .679, .800(!), and .750. 

Is there any good reason for this? Tough to say, really. It's tempting to subscribe to the notion that the Cardinals have, for the most part, been far enough ahead in September that they were prone to letting off the gas pedal and slowing down. Of course, that's a rather damning notion in and of itself, but even from a factual standpoint it's a fairly flimsy excuse. The Cards nearly gave away the division in 2006 and were chasing in both 2007 and '08. They had things mostly locked up last year thanks to a .769 August and a terrible division, but still stumbled badly against teams which, for the most part, were non-playoff non-winning teams. 

The other notion one might subscribe to is the idea that September is always when teams call up their kids, doling out the proverbial cups of coffee to players more in the future than the present. Thus, you get a lot of B lineup games with youngsters on the field instead of the Winning Veteran Players (patent pending) that makes a team successful. The problem with that, unfortunately, is that the Cardinals are well known for not bringing up many prospects at all in September. They call up Quad-A outfielders to pinch hit and a couple extra relievers, but that's about it. The lineups for the Cardinals don't look much different in September than they do the rest of the season. 

I'm not intending this to bash Tony La Russa; I do enough of that already. But when you look at the way the Cardinals play, year after year, it seems odd that they haven't finished out a season on a high note for the better part of a decade. They have one winning September in eight years, and that one winning September came as part of an historically brilliant season and was still a big dropoff from their summer pace. 

I wish I could tell if this was really something systemic, but sadly I really can't. Eight years seems like a lot of games, enough so we no longer have to toss around the small sample size warnings, but it could still be just a random, coincidental occurrence. It doesn't feel random, but that doesn't mean it isn't. 

Then again, I'm not immune to a good narrative by any means, and Cardinal teams look tired by the time they wrap up the season. They look, in fact, as if they're staggering across the finish line the way Iron Man competitors often do, when you see their legs just refusing to obey the orders being sent from above. 

What I do know is I'm tired of it. September baseball should be the best thing in the world, yet time and time again as Cardinal fans we've seen the very worst our team has to offer at crunch time. 

The Baron's Playlist for the 15th of September, 2010 -- Stuff You've Heard 

"Let's Go To Bed" - The Cure

"This Charming Man" - The Smiths

"(You're The) Devil in Disguise" - Elvis Presley

"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" - Elton John

"Driver 8" - REM

"Mother" - John Lennon

"Controversy" - Prince

"Stand By Your Man" - Tammy Wynette (I'm not joking. This song is incredible.) 

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