In St. Louis there's a talk radio listener who has a recurring dream that begins like this. He creeps up toward Matt Holliday, who's just heard his name announced and is paralyzed with fear about it. He takes a deep breath. But right as he begins to yell, "Unclutch!" Matt Holliday turns around and it isn't Matt Holliday at all, but a dementor.
I was working on a Top 5 piece for SB Nation St. Louis yesterday, about the things the St. Louis Cardinals could do to improve down the stretch, and I got through the first one really quickly: The Cardinals could replace Barret Browning and maybe even Brian Fuentes with some other replacement-level-relievers-who-might-not-be-replacement-level-relievers.
That took me two or three minutes, in which I managed to get through my whole spiel about the line between trying randomly to catch lightning in a bottle and resigning oneself to how hard it is to evaluate relievers, slipped in an inexplicable Jess Todd reference, all that stuff.
Then I got stuck. (The final piece is, um, not so much as I intended about minor roster changes.) There just wasn't much left to say; the Cardinals have gotten rid of Tyler Greene, who they weren't using, they've called up Ryan Jackson, who's probably useful on a team with one actual shortstop who is also in his mid-30s, and they've given a lot of playing time to emerging key players like Matt Carpenter and Mitchell Boggs.
Basically, they could get rid of Barret Browning, they could make sure Ryan Jackson plays more at shortstop than at second base, and they could stop bunting, ever.
It was kind of a disheartening moment--one of those moments, like watching a 24-hour news channel on a day when nobody's been kidnapped, when you realize how badly our desire to constantly be reading about sports, and how sports should be, and how, generally, we can learn how things really work, matches up with how much news there really is, and how much (how little, really) more rational behavior can alter the outcome of individual events.
Because so far as I can tell, the Cardinals can do nothing about their surging rivals and their weird run-differential problem and their scuffling bullpen except hope that those things resolve as they play more games.
At this point, a lot of the problems we can complain about, or make notes about, have already left their mark on this team's 2012 season. Well: They could have spent a little more money in the course of replacing Octavio Dotel, especially if they were (rightly, it turns out) as leery of Eduardo Sanchez going into the season as they've been since the season started. They could have either given up on Tyler Greene sooner, when they could have made a bigger trade for a middle infielder, or given him even more chances to improve on the second base situation as it stands now. They could have, uh, petitioned to make run differential part of the BCS rankings and signed Ryan Ludwick and hidden him in the Dominican Republic for the duration.
Right now, though--my desire to read and write about these Cardinals is undiminished, but the stock of things to write about that could change the course of their season is running pretty low. Some of that is John Mozeliak's fault, but a lot of it is to his credit; these Cardinals have done a fine job of identifying and dropping sub-replacement-level players as quickly as they could.
So it's the middle of August, and there aren't a lot of potentially MLB-ready prospects or replacement-level holes in which to plant them. (Though I'm all for a Shelby Miller throw-as-hard-as-you-can bullpen call-up, to be honest.) The Cardinals are playing their best lineup most nights, and it's really good--good enough, if we were starting from 0-0 again, to be considered the division favorites. All that's left, I think, is to enjoy the games.