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thank goodness that's over with.

i could recount all the hardships and bitter blows the cards and their fans had to suffer this season, but what would be the point. . . . . we all get an extra month off this year, and we need it. hell, we need a stinkin' day off; this is the first day since august 27 that the cardinals aren't playing baseball. in their deadly closing stretch of 35 games / 34 days, they went 15-20 --- the same record they opened the season with.

if that was la russa's last game for the franchise, he certainly went out on his own terms. 9 pitching changes on the final day of the season, in a game that meant nothing; 24 players into the fray. jim tracy nearly kept pace, with 7 pitching changes; the two skippers, anyway, were in no hurry for the season to end. it's often the case that season finales are over in 1:50 or thereabouts; this one lasted 3:11.

wrapping up a few odds n ends:

  1. of the cardinals' last 5 pennant-winning teams (2006, 2004, 1987, 1985, 1982), 4 came back the following year to finish below .500, with between 76 and 79 wins. only the 2004 team managed to finish above .500.
  2. the cardinals avoided breaking the franchise record for runs allowed. they finished at 829, the 3d-highest total in franchise history and 2d-highest total of the last 95 years.
  3. they also avoided leading the league in negative run differential. that honor went to the team they swept this weekend, the pirates, who finished at minus 122. the cards finished 2d in the nl in that category, at minus 104; the marlins were minus 101, the nats minus 100.
  4. the -104 run differential was 1 run worse than the 1955 team's, meaning the 2007 cards had the franchise's worst run differential in 91 years --- worst since the 1916 team, which came in at -153.
  5. the cards finished 11th in the league in scoring (worst since 1997) and 11th in earned-run average (worst since 2003). they were 2d in unearned runs allowed, at 88 (the marlins led with 98).
  6. st louis finished 30-19 against the three bottom teams in the nl central (pirates, reds, and astros); vs all other comers they were 48-65, a .425 winning percentage.
one last item --- skip schumaker's 5-for-5 finale, coupled with pujols's 0-for-5, created a significant first for the franchise player, if not for the franchise itself: for the first time ever, albert got outhit by a teammate who had more than 100 at-bats. schumaker finished at .333, beating albert by 6 points. the last cardinal not named pujols to post a batting avg that high in 100 at-bats or more was will clark, who finished at .345 in 2000. schumaker fell just short of batting .400 over the last 3 months of the year; from july 1 forward he went 48 for 121, a .397 clip.

look out, ted williams.

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joe strauss's article yesterday contained a fairly remarkable quote about the tensions in the front office:
"It's not a healthy environment when you're worried about who you're seen speaking to. If you speak to someone, you risk making someone else in the front office mad. If you don't speak, you alienate the person in front of you. It's tough when you're caught in the middle of something like that."
this was attributed to an unnamed farm-system employee. bill dewitt himself acknowledged that a rift exists in the front office, although he downplayed its significance. but if things are really as bad as described in that quote, the organization is in trouble. healthy, creative tension is one thing; a circular firing squad is another. i've been in work situations where people have to be careful about whom they share information with; in my experience, such an environment never lends itself to good performance.

i will say that it's striking to note how many of this year's playoff teams have been built via player development. the rockies (not a playoff team just yet, but hopefully after tonight) are almost entirely homegrown, and the indians, angels, and dbacks mostly so; the phillies' 4 best hitters, rotation ace, and closer all came up through the system. even the yankees, lords of the checkbook, have a homegrown ace and closer, and their starters at all 4 up-the-middle positions were developed in-house. that's to say nothing of the teams that barely missed the playoffs --- brewers, braves, and dodgers drew most of their talent from within. that's why the approach bernie proposes this morning --- dewitt must open dewallet --- seems misguided to me. dewallet cannot fix what's broken with this team; sign a bunch of f.a.'s this year, and 2 or 3 years from now those acquisitions are apt to be as old and broken-down and useless as edmonds and rolen and mulder were this season. this organization's already too top-heavy; their overriding imperative is to get younger, a need they've had since 2005. they've made some progress in that regard (duncan, wainwright, hopefully ankiel and/or ryan), but they need to push it further. jumping whole-hog into the free-agent market won't get them there. only patience will.

that's not to say i think they shouldn't sign any free agents. they're gonna have to sign some; too many holes on the roster. but they need to be smart about it. i think they were extremely smart last year to stay out of the crazy free-agent market. it's a fair critique to say that the ownership has occasionally cheaped out and allowed good free agents to get away --- particularly aj burnett, who was the best free-agent pitcher on the market two years ago and wanted to play in st louis. but in the vast majority of cases the team's valuation has been accurate and their refusal to overpay has been vindicated. i don't like greedy rich guys any more than bernie does, but i don't think dewitt's tight dewallet has been the main problem with the team --- and i'm absolutely certain that raising payroll isn't the main solution going forward. it's much simpler, and more complicated, than that: they need to do a better job of evaluating talent and developing players.

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once the rockies and pads settle the wild-card question, i'll post a poll to determine the community's official playoff endorsement. i'll also be soliciting your predictions for the postseason tournament. we'll have game threads here throughout the playoffs, and i'll have one tonight for the one-game playoff (technically a regular season game); during the nlds round, when there will be multiple games on most days, i'll just put up one generic thread covering all that day's contests. and while this is all going on, there's bound to be lots of news regarding our favorite team --- beginning with the official word regarding the status of our favorite manager.

let's go rockies.