I have to say, one of the things that, in retrospect, really annoys me about that Kip Wells loss (aside from all of the typical complaints one would have about Kip Wells vomiting up a loss) was that, if the Cardinals had to take one loss against the Pirates, I would just as soon have it come at the hands of Matt Morris. I always completely loved what that guy did for the team, and it still makes me sad to see him in another uniform or to see Piñeiro wear his number. Watching him and Darry Kile anchor an actual resurgent rotation in the early aughts is something that will always give me a bit of joy.
However, the team now has an actual, honest to goodness, winning record. The claim, however, that their success is a result of other teams giving up more than them succeeding, however is correct. As of August first, they were six games out in the central, with a 50-54 record. Since then, they have played at a 18-13 (.580) clip. Over this time period, they have scored 145 runs, and allowed 120, good for a .590 Pythagorean. Considering a couple of the crazy blowout losses we've seen at the hands of the likes of Pittsburgh and Houston, and the damage to the Pythagorean record that they created, this makes the fact that the team has underperformed it's Pythagorean record all the more surprising. But it remains, .580 or .590 shouldn't be enough for a losing team to dig itself out of a six game hole. Yet, here we are.
And I think the same argument I made last year applies to the team this year, should we make the postseason--the weakness of this team has been the back of the rotation, and that is the part of the team that has almost zero effect on the performance of the postseason squad. When people talk about the Cardinals improbable postseason run, relative to their regular season performance, they rarely, if ever, talk about the simple improvement that removing bipolar betty from the rotation had upon the team's prospects. Similarly, out of eighty five qualifiers, Kip "Kippersley" Wells is eighty second in ERA, and unlike the others, he's had relief appearances to lower that number. Removing that guy from the postseason roster will instantly improve the Cardinals' run differential far more than it will for any other team that they will face (almost noone else in the bottom ten in ERA is on a postseason-bound squad, beyond Jaime Moyer and Adam Eaton of the Phillies).
Which brings us back to pitching at the top of the rotation. We won't have Carpenter to anchor the team this year, but Wainwright has shown himself to be solid, and Mr. B.Looper has shown that he can step up from time to time--particularly over this stretch where the team has come back into contention. Similarly, Piñeiro has shown that he can be a solid major league starter, at least over his five or six starts for the team. So that leaves us with Mr. Swamp Gas, Mark Mulder himself. He is probably m ore of a cypher than he has been in the past. His minor league debacles last year were a pretty clear indication that he was going to be horrible last year when he came back. He's managed to avoid those this year--he was pretty dominant for palm beach, and he really got the groundballs for Memphis, and also had a decent overall start, so that's an indication that his sinker is probably working again. There is a good chance that he might be back to his old ways by next year, and that he could be 2005 Mark Mulder this year. If that's the case, a rotation of Wainwright, Looper, Mulder and Piñeiro could be solid in the postseason. At least solid enough to let Branyan, Pujols, Ankiel and Duncan to try to make some offensive plays.
Or perhaps, to see if Jimmy E has some of that old magic left in him.
I know it's not realistic for this team to make it very far in the postseason, but once again, I"m just making the argument that our current scrubs 'n studs roster makeup has the distinct advantage of creating a team that is much tougher in a short series than it is in the regular season, as it allows Tony to simply cut off the fat when the games start becoming elimination games.