The Cardinals have lost—I can't be sure here, but I think this is close—twenty-eight out of their last twenty-nine games, and that is definitely frustrating. The Cardinals losing now, as opposed to in 2006, where they almost lost their big lead, or in 2007, when they just weren't very good... I've decided that the difference isn't that I feel better about it, because when I think about them it's just as frustrating; it's that I can think less about them. Quantity of teeth-gnashing, not quality.
I considered, when I realized that I was writing on the off day, talking about whether a team's play in September generally has an effect on its October chances. And I got a few minutes into that before I realized that as Cardinals fans we already know all about what it's like for a team to collapse in September and reinflate in October. We were there, man.
I'm at a point in the season where I need to rest my starters, give some other guys some work; things are barking. So I'd like to ask you, The Birdos, a question: What, short of injury, would it worry you to see out of this team in September? What would give you pause, if this losing run hasn't done it? I've got three answers, in ascending order of pause-length:
1. Minor eyebrow-raise: Mark DeRosa continues to not hit. It's been an ugly, ugly September, and it's coming off of an August that had a great personality. It's hard to see, because DeRosa—whatever the merits of the trade on the Chris Perez end—should have been a perfect fit for this team. The night he was acquired he seemed to salve every sore spot on the roster, short of (and in his defense, he didn't get a chance) providing right-handed relief. It wasn't his fault he tore his wrist up; it wasn't his fault the Cardinals papered over his Super Utility cred with Julio Lugo and Matt Holliday.
But talking about right now, if he can't hit—and he's not just slumping, he's hurt and slumping—he's Joe Thurston, only he's not a plus second baseman.That would be a Minor Concern.
2. Jim-from-the-Office (excellent premiere, incidentally) head-turn: Lohse and Smoltz both struggle down the non-stretch. It's good to hear that Kyle Lohse's Secret MRI found nothing. Given his place on the current depth chart it's probably more important to the Cardinals re: the rest of his contract. But even though I've watched this great second half with my own eyes, and been acutely aware that Lohse has been a non-factor the entire time, I'm still uncomfortable without him—the two pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart were, this time last year, nicknamed Piñata and recovering from shoulder surgery.
Maybe this is better in the other direction—it would make me more confident of the 2009 squad if Lohse can recover from what has been the weirdest injury-plagued-second-half in recent memory.
3. Unironic spit-take: Franklin continues to struggle, La Russa doesn't adjust his usage patterns. The second part is what really worries me; eventually Ryan Franklin will go back to being Ryan Franklin, but La Russa's bullpen flexibility, or lack thereof, will be really important in the playoffs, because there's nobody he can lean on. In 2006 that turned into a beautiful stretch of pitching from Josh Kinney and company; I don't know if there's a Josh Kinney in the bunch right now, even Josh Kinney, but I've been wrong before. (With Josh Kinney, for instance. And with that I have gotten the SB Nation autotagger really confused.)