to say the least, i've been ambivalent about this year's team. most of you have picked up on that by now; a lot of you feel the same way i do. it's not that i've wished the team ill; i never do that. but i haven't wished it particularly well either. didn't seem like a wise use of wishes. the team's many flaws have been painfully apparent since very early in the season; their primary "strength" has been the equal distribution of weakness among the nl central teams. being the best of a bad lot is no great honor, imho; the prospect of another 83-win division titlist didn't excite me. and the notion that such a team might catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row and defend its world title? hoo boy. it'd be entertaining viewing for us cardinal fans, but it'd be terrible for the sport. for the 2d consecutive year, we'd have a champion that played losing baseball for most of the regular season, and that would really bother me and all the other old fuddy-duddies who've never been crazy about the 3-division / wild-card system.
accordingly, i've followed the cardinals' return to contention with a high degree of detachment. it's certainly better than the alternative --- i'd rather that the games mean something --- and you can only admire the way these guys have kept plugging away despite having lost a teammate and being forced to play with all their biggest weapons on the dl or in the lineup at 80 percent. if the cardinals had just stopped trying (as, at times, they appeared to), you couldn't really have blamed them. so i've found it satisfying to watch the team keep battling --- satisfying, but not stirring. i haven't been glued to the radio or talked to the cards on my tv. the intensity just hasn't been there for me.
i'm spending the holiday weekend at my in-laws' house, where the connectivity is fine but competition for access to the lone computer is high. the kids are on it constantly, and the adults queue up to check e-mail and weather and news; i've been relegated to a century-old mode of baseball followership, ie waiting for the box score to appear. (at least i can get it online, instead of waiting for the morning paper.) but yesterday i seized an opening at about 3 o'clock and managed to get Gameday loaded; the cardinals were leading 3-2, izzy was on the mound, there was 1 out and a run in and the count was 0-1 on javier valentin. as i stood there, bent over the screen, one of the kids sauntered up and thought i was playing a computer game; he tried to seize the mouse but i swatted the brat aside, just like wc fields. he came back and hovered, looking for an opening; when a distraction of some sort caused me momentarily to turn my head, the little devil snuck in a few random clicks --- and when i looked back down at the screen, Gameday showed willy taveras at the plate in the 2d inning and brandon webb feeding him sinkers. what did you do?!?! i bellowed, and the imp skipped away triumphantly; made his day. i hurriedly reloaded the cardinals-reds game, just in time to see the "ball in play, out(s)" notation on the 2-2 pitch to valentin. one more pitch and the ballgame was over. the cubs were losing at the time, 5-3, and i was thinking: one game out; suh-weet.
and when i found out, late last night, that the cubs had rallied and the cardinals hadn't picked up any ground, i muttered "dammit!" with a punctuating bob of the head. i was genuinely pissed; strongest emotional reaction i've had all season. or at least, the strongest reaction to an outcome on the field. this year it has been the off-field stuff that elicits the emotion: the death and the other two substance abuse cases. they're sad circumstances, and they arouse my sympathy --- but all the wounds are self-inflicted. we can't really say the cardinals were unlucky in any of those cases, only that they were human. likewise, the injuries to carpenter, rolen, kennedy, edmonds, wilson, et al, are misfortunes the cardinals courted; when you stock the roster mainly with 30+-year-old players, most of whom have an injury history, you can hardly complain when the dl gets crowded. i've felt all year as if the cards' lousy record and low place in the standings were deserved, rather than a product of bad luck; if anything, they've been incredibly lucky the last couple of seasons --- lucky to play in a division so bad that they can contend despite a mediocre assemblage of talent.
but the injury to encarnacion --- that was unlucky. and perhaps this is why i'm suddenly feeling the old burn to see the team win, after not caring all that much most of the summer. maybe it's just the old september instinct, or maybe it's the fact that the roster deadline has passed and it's too late for play-for-next-year strategies; there's only this year to play for now. but i think that ball in encarnacion's face offended my sense of justice. he didn't deserve it; the cardinals didn't deserve it. and it doesn't seem fair, now that they've played themselves into a position to control their own destiny, for a freak injury --- a devastating one, one that threatens prematurely to end a man's career --- to diminish their already limited prospects. i don't find it difficult to swallow failure that's largely earned. but the ball to the face has changed the calculus somewhat. that i can't swallow easily. it won't change encarnacion's circumstances a whit whether they win the division or not. but the rest of the cardinals? i'd love to see them rise to the challenge.
* * * * * *you've all been discussing the curious case of mike maroth's impending return to the rotation. if mulder had bumped reyes from the rotation i'd understand the reasoning, but maroth? anthony's case for staying in the rotation may not be great, but it's still infinitely stronger than the case for maroth. since late july (including his terrible start friday night), reyes has a 4.17 era, and he's held opponents to a .220 / .294 / .413 line over that span. big-leaguers are batting .342 against maroth in 2007; in his short rehab assignment, minor-leaguers batted .294 against him. i never understood the need for a 6-man rotation in the first place, but it makes absolutely no sense if maroth is one of the 6. i agree with those who argue that reyes hasn't done enough to solidify his status in the rotation, so fine --- add mulder and take your shot with the 5 guys you think are the best. but if maroth costs the cardinals so much as 1 blowout loss . . . . it'll be interesting to hear tony/dave explain themselves should that comes to pass.