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Ninth innings and third basemen

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It seems like this team is the not-quitest good squad in recent memory, doesn't it? Look at all these depressing WPA charts—there's yesterday's, then the day before's, which looks almost identical. Then there's that absurd rally from the day before the day before last. Three perfect Little Dippers. One just-short rally feels good; they have fight! Steve Hill hits a home run, everybody refuses to back down! Three of them is stupid; this last one felt a little like watching the story arc of Rocky V take shape before your very eyes at the end of a cable-TV series marathon. Don't do it, Rock! One more fight might kill you, again!

For a long time they didn't seem very clutch; now they're too clutch. A look at the team that employs notorious choker Matt Holliday confirms that they hit their best in high-leverage situations and have put up an OPS over .800 in the ninth inning, which is exciting most of the time but also, I guess, a recipe for our current comeback fatigue. 

Recently, and incredibly conveniently, I was offered the chance of a journalistic lifetime; I was hesitant to go through with it, at first, but current events have made George Gipp's commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals suddenly relevant. Let me just find my notes...

VEB: So, George, I was wondering if we could talk about—

The Gipper: I've got to go, Dan. 

VEB: Look, George, you just sat down!

The Gipper: It's all right. I'm not afraid.

VEB: Okay. I was wondering if we could talk about the Cardinals' newly discovered method of delivering frustrating losses, by which they get into seemingly avoidable holes and then rally about two-thirds of the way out of them.

The Gipper: But some time, Dan, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they've got and win just one in the first inning, for God's sake. I mean, if you don't let all the breaks beat you in the first place, you just—God, it's just so frustrating. I mean, get out there, take a lead, and then you don't have to hit for an .814 OPS in the ninth inning. High leverage, shmigh leverage—you don't want that! It's a bad thing! I don't know where I'll be then, Dan. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy.

VEB: Thanks, George.

The Gipper: You guys have antibiotics, now, right? Could you point me to some?

I mentioned it in passing on SB Nation St. Louis, but is anybody at all enthused by the prospect of Geoff Blum joining the Cardinals? (For a long time I used to confuse Wes Helms and Geoff Blum. Having looked at their numbers just now, it is safe to say that I did not miss much nuance by muddling them together in my head.) How about Craig Counsell or Brandon Inge?

The Cardinals aren't short on guys who are a little better than replacement level at third base. Felipe Lopez is probably more than a little better than replacement level at third, infuriating as his errors were, and Joe Mather and Tyler Greene are both interesting upside plays whose usefulness on the roster outlives David Freese's absence. Allen Craig didn't help his own cause by going 0-1 on chances in his first start at the position, but he, too, is far more interesting than anybody on the list of waiver-wire candidates that's circulated around the Cardinals internet for the last several days.

Only Edwin Encarnacion intrigues, and only just. For a poor-fielding malcontent hitter he's had years where he doesn't hit well enough, and whether it's indifference or just awkwardness he really is an awful third baseman. But malcontent labels have been shed before and will be shed again; as proof there's none other than the Cardinals' incumbent third baseman, who spent his own years as a defensively indifferent Cincinnati Red who stagnated as a hitter and collapsed as an infielder. If the Cardinals are so uncomfortable with Allen Craig as to require an established veteran presence at hitter-who-might-not-be-able-to-play-third-base, Encarnacion is their man.

But really, they shouldn't be. Felipe Lopez and the parade of young players better than Geoff Blum isn't ideal, but no ideal candidates are left; when Ty Wigginton, who was claimed by a team and pulled back from waivers, is the out-of-reach ideal, it's time to figure out what's left in the system and triage a third baseman from the remaining parts.

(As if you need more evidence he's a perfect fit and a future Cardinal: as recently as this June he was so far in the doghouse that—you'll be familiar with this—he was thrown back to AAA and replaced by a scrappy, impossibly undersized, impossibly white ex-Cardinal utility infielder.)