Does the hump day metaphor do anything for you? No? Well, whatever—that was the most deflating loss the Cardinals will be dealt all season, non-injury division, and I can't imagine many more coming close. Now we go downhill: consider this your depression Wednesday.
The Reds lost, so there's that. The Cardinals remain somewhat disappointing—a five on a scale of fantastic to fiery nightmare—and also half of a game behind a team that has its own set of lingering problems. Even if you're not sure the Cardinals are in a better position than the Reds, and I am, it's easy to draw parallels that suggest they're in the same position. Like the Cardinals their second best hitter, Scott Rolen, is a guy who had some vague all-world potential—in the past, and not Colby Rasmus's future—and is realizing it an a completely unexpected way. Like the Cardinals their shortstop isn't hitting; their most effective pitcher is a rookie whose peripherals aren't in keeping with his low, low ERA.
Leave the half a game out of it for a moment. If the Reds are going to finish ahead of the Cardinals, their potential problems need to perform better than the Cardinals' potential problems. That could happen, but I don't think we've seen any lapse in character or talent serious enough for an assumption that it will happen to be rational.
Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus homered, so there's also that. Pujols is still having a truly poor season by his own standards, the worst since 2002, but he's not particularly far from 2007; this isn't yet a paradigm-shifting season, to mangle already-mangled business English. The really scary comparison, the Frank Thomas-at-30 fall from grace? The Big Hurt went from .347/.456/.611 to .265/.381/.480. Albert Pujols isn't there.
And Colby Rasmus—Colby Rasmus now has as many home runs as he hit in 2009. If he went zero for his next 50, he'd be hitting .231/.316/.473, compared to his .251/.307/.407 line in 2009. He's having a really great season. He's having a really, really great month; the ridiculous walk rate from April and May hasn't been around, but that's nine home runs.
Pessimism, if you want it, behind the jump. Jaime Garcia! He's not good enough to maintain a 2.27 ERA over the course of a season!
Jaime Garcia's not good enough to maintain a 2.27 ERA over the course of a season. His control hasn't been perfect all year, and as one of my favorite announcer cliches goes, if you allow walks to extend an inning it's additional chances for bad things to happen.
(Speaking of which, remember when Wilson Betemit was a good prospect? And even a good player? He was a perfectly cromulent hitter and a perfectly decent Scott Spiezio-type utility infielder for three years, but when he fell out of favor with the Yankees his AAA numbers didn't take a AAA bump; he just did the exact same thing he'd been doing at the major league level. Such are the perils of the international free agent mega-millions; Betemit is one of the few players this side of Joe Nuxhall with an age-15 season on Baseball Reference.)
There's a good kind of announcer cliche and a bad kind. The bad kind makes it seem like anything a player does, or a class of player does, is something that can and will destroy a team over the course of a long season. Jaime Garcia—he's a thrower, not a pitcher! The good kind expresses a truism and also gives variance and one-time mistakes its due. Well, if Jaime Garcia walks two consecutive mediocre hitters with two outs in the second inning, he's inviting bad things to happen. It doesn't mean it's a character failure, or a skill problem, it's just something that happened. In front of Wilson Betemit in the second inning of a Royals game. That one sucked.