If ever there was a season in recent memory that has seemed overanalyzed in its flaws, it's 2010. Suffice to saw that Jeff Suppan starting today seems like a fitting case in point for the season.
The Cardinals will end the season with a strong core in place for next year. At the top, they've had three players tally 6+ WAR seasons: Albert Pujols (7.4), Matt Holliday (6.9) and Adam Wainwright (6.2). The second group of players is another troika who have accumulated seasons in the 3 WAR range: Colby Rasmus (3.8), Chris Carpenter (3.8) and Jaime Garcia (3.2). They have the basic building blocks to be a contender next year. (Heck, they had them this year . . . but we're looking forward.)
What might make for a difficult offseason is that the organization will be expected to do something. I mean that literally. If they did nothing and just fielded the same team next year, they could be contenders. The club is difficult to upgrade in any specific place because the needs don't quite match up with the available free agents.
A healthy third baseman, a better bench and some more pitching depth are all things that are relatively easy to find both internally and externally as another year passes. But how much of a difference will that really make? I think it will make a significant impact in specific scenarios or individual games but improving those areas won't make as much of difference as just having better luck.
Fun Fact: Jeff Suppan has a 3.46 FIP with the Cardinals. Don't worry, I almost choked when I saw that too. He's rocking a 5.00 xFIP.
ZiPS likes Suppan as something a little over replacement level next year. How would you feel if the Cardinals gave him a $1M contract for 2011? I'm not sure how I would react to that. Reflexively, it strikes me as a bad idea. Objectively, I could live with it if they had a short leash with him. I almost certainly don't want to see Jeff Suppan AND Kyle Lohse filling out the back end of the same rotation though.
I've been more interested in the last few games than the dozen or so before them. Even though I don't think there are any world beaters among the September crew, watching the young(er) players like Craig, Descalso and Anderson is fun. Enjoy the last game of the season!