Albert Pujols: Andrew, 'e nod aboud you, mang. We jes wahng you to know that. Wait—Is 'e press gahng?
Matt Holliday: Colby just started doing his I-don't-care-about-baseball-or-do-I routine, you guys should have 20 minutes.
Albert Pujols: Thanks, Matt. I appreciate it. Andrew, we just want you to know this fight we're having isn't about your playing time in the outfield. We all think you had a great few months at Memphis—.351/.449/.625, wow!—and with Allen out for a while you could spend more time here than anybody thinks. It's just sometimes Stars and Managers disagree about how to get other bats into the lineup.
Danup: And bloggers! Albert, it's really selfless what you're doing but I think you're totally—
Albert Pujols: Shut it. Andrew, it's just that sometimes when those disagreements happen they turn into fights, and we know those kinds of fights can be scary.
Tony La Russa: Albert's right, Andrew. Personally I'm so excited about your promotion that I look forward to the day I can start you at third base and Albert Pujols in right field. But sometimes Stars—
Danup: And fans!
Tony La Russa: Sometimes Stars think it doesn't make sense to slide the defense out of alignment, even when they say they're totally all right with it, like maybe they just said that to impress other people.
Albert Pujols: And sometimes they don't think it makes sense when it's done not for the sake of resting another player or dealing with injuries but to keep the hot hand in the lineup, when all the hot hand did was get a single. Which is great, of course!
Tony La Russa: Super great!
Albert Pujols: Really wonderful.
Danup: Awesome, dude!
Tony La Russa: Look, don't be patronizing about it, okay? He's a grown man. Now, Andy, Albert's going to go pack his third-base glove up, but how about you and I go out for some Ted Drewes! Yeah? That sound good?
So now we know about every last flaw The Fun Team has, right? Kyle McClellan has been a competent starting pitcher but wasn't there; Albert Pujols plays third base, but sometimes he's bad at it; the part of the bullpen that isn't great is startlingly awful. Taking these backward:
At this point I'm not sure we can blame Tony La Russa for the state of the bullpen, unless he's personally attempting to veto pulling the veterans' plugs; he's done everything he can to signal his reluctance to use Ryan Franklin and more recently Brian Tallet in close situations, and if I had to guess he's on his way to the same behavior with Miguel Batista. Franklin's aLI since vanishing from the bullpen is 0.61; Tallet's since coming back is an incredible 0.21; even Batista's has fallen as his ERA rises.
His usage, in aggregate, doesn't strike me as a lot different from what it would be if VEB controlled the bullpen through a series of sliders below the fan confidence poll, only with less swearing: La Russa is clearly uncomfortable with his bullpen, and with Eduardo Sanchez laid up with a case of what doctors call "SHOULDER OH GOD PANIC" it's only going to get worse.
Without Sanchez the Cardinals are left with Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, and Jason Motte clearly ahead of replacement level in the bullpen; Raul Valdes could help the left-handed side of the bullpen, though that might involve cutting bait on one of the other southpaws, and if La Russa wanted to go Full La Russa on this season and Sanchez misses significant time he could move Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen and call up Lance Lynn for good, but aside from that there's just not much help left in the system.
Outside the system—well, here there be trading for relief pitchers. In free agency you might be able to find, say, an aging closer who got hammered up and down his last season in the big leagues but isn't willing to retire, if you like that sort of reclamation project.
I'm not sure we underestimated how bad the defense could be in the middle infield this season so much as they've begun the year by exceeding our wildest expectations. Without Nick Punto this team lacks the ability to get its head above water up the middle; Tyler Greene's defensive reputation, like his offense, seems grounded in tools that don't consistently manifest themselves over the din of his weaknesses, and Daniel Descalso is only one man. When the team puts Pujols in at third base, then, they cut the only consistently strong parts of their infield defense out all at once, and sometimes whatever that was happens.
Honestly, I think the Pujols-at-third thing has its merits beyond being fun to watch, most of the time, but one of them is not getting Andrew Brown's bat in the lineup. It's a little like putting Allen Craig in at second so you can spot-start Skip Schumaker in the outfield.
I'm no more or less worried than I ever was about his trip to the starting rotation, because if he washes out of the rotation it won't be because he looked like that. That said, as each reliever goes down in turn he has to be at least a little worried about the Full La Russa.