the irony. after nearly a full season of skepticism, emphasizing the cardinals' flaws and waving red flags -- their lousy strikeout rate, their negative homerun differential, their imbalanced rotation and misappropriation of roster resources -- after months and months of, in essence, issuing "sell" recommendations on st louis cardinals stock, i come to find that, at the very end, i may have overestimated this team.
i knew they weren't good, but i thought they were good enough to win the division. now i'm not so sure.
as the astros have gotten closer and closer and closer -- and as the st louis bats went limp, the izzy-less bullpen disintegrated, the staff ace faltered -- even as all those things happened, the cards always had dumb luck and the schedule on their side. but luck is no longer quite so one-sided an asset, and they can't run the clock out on the schedule. the astros want this; they're really playing for something. whereas the cardinals seem to want nothing more than a negative -- ie, they want not to go down as the biggest chokers in history. houston's got the initiative, and that might prove to be more important than the one lonely little game in the loss column the cardinals still possess.
if i turn out to be wrong and the cardinals finish 2d, i'll accept the verdict of the scoreboard; it don't lie. whatever their fate turns out to be, they will have earned it -- and i will be able to live with it. i suggested a few days ago that the cardinals' last 7 games amounted to a de facto playoff series -- win 4 of the 7 and they (probably) advance. they're now down in that "series," 2 games to 1; they need 3 more wins. they'll have up to 5 games to get them. if the cardinals aren't up to that very small challenge, then they don't belong in the playoffs -- plain and simple.
i mean, they don't belong in the playoffs anyway -- not under any circumstances, not even if they win out. in a best-case scenario, the cardinals will finish with 85 wins; relying strictly on memory, i think that would make them the 4th-worst postseason team of all time, after the '05 padres (82 wins), the '73 mets (also 82), and the '84 royals (84). they currently have the 13th-best record in baseball; they'd be no better than a 3d-place club in any of the 5 other divisions, and a 4th-place club in two of'm. the texas rangers still have a chance to flag down the cardinals in the win column on this final weekend.
they already don't belong in the playoffs.
so if the cardinals do, in fact, miss the playoffs, i won't lose a minute of sleep over it. the guys losing sleep will be the new york mets and all their fans. you think they want to face clemens oswalt and pettitte? they're all rooting like hell for the cardinals -- probably harder than some of us are. they, not we, may be the real losers if st louis completes its collapse. i daresay even some of those american league teams are pulling for our guys; of all the nl teams they might wish to avoid in the world series, houston probably ranks at the top of the list. just what we've always wanted -- the whole baseball world is rooting for the cardinals!
if it should come down to a one-game playoff between st louis and houston -- an increasingly likely scenario -- the projected pitching pairing would be jason marquis vs roy oswalt. after last night's game, la russa wouldn't commit to naming marquis as his starter; it seems to have dawned on him, somewhat belatedly, that jason isn't very good and that he, as the manager, has the discretion to use another pitcher. marquis' era now stands at 6.02; unless he gets in for another couple of (scoreless) innings between now and sunday/monday/tuesday, he will set a new record for the worst era in franchise history by an era qualifier. that's a 77-year-old record, set in 1929 by bill sherdel, who posted a 5.93 era. since 1950, only 12 qualifiers in all of baseball have posted worse era's than 6.02 -- and 4 of those guys pitched in coors field, including darryl kile, whose 6.61 era in 1999 is the 4th worst since 1950. also on the list is our own chris carpenter (6.22 in 2000 for toronto, 7th-worst). heck, dave n' tony turned kile and carpenter around; maybe . . . . . ?
jason's 16 losses are the most by a st louis pitcher since 1990, when the last-place cardinals had two 17-game losers (magrane and deleon). if tony comes to his senses and finally cuts bait on marquis, here are are his options for tuesday:
- weaver on three days' rest