The Cardinals are nothing if not ambitious in their attempt to cause the SB Nation Fan Confidence Poll (look to the right—no, my right) to malfunction in a particularly cartoonish way. After looking listless enough to push it back down to 54 Jaime Garcia threw a shutout, Kyle Lohse didn't suck, and the Cardinals put together 19 runs in two games.
The runs—well, Ross Ohlendorf didn't record an out, Sean Gallagher probably had to be woken up in the bullpen, and Chan Ho Park apparently pitches for the Pirates now. But with Molina, Ryan, and Schumaker hitting for the moment the Cardinals have only Pedro Feliz to carry the automatic-out banner, which is a serious improvement, and the offense no longer inspires variations on the word listless as a result. A lineup with three automatic outs in it can look anemic against anybody.
There's something calming about every starter having performed well within his last two or three starts—bloggers and blog-readers don't forget, as Dave Cameron's sixth-best-organization drama has taught us, but a certain subconscious anxiety evaporates when our memories of The Good Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia are reinforced.
Lohse wasn't The Great Kyle Lohse, but even the earliest Lohse shersey-buyer can't be expecting that guy at this point. He didn't throw a lot of strikes, but the strikeouts were there—as were the swinging strikes, coming on the fastball, changeup, and slider—and he got around a weak Pirates lineup.
Pitching after a summer's layoff with a forearm that feels brand new meant he was due for a few more hall passes before the Cardinals pulled the plug, but Lohse turning into a useful pitcher would be huge down the stretch in 2010. You'd want better out of a guy making $10 million, but not out of your fifth starter—which means we're set for another few years of conflicted Kyle Lohse-related feelings.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch—there's something unseemly about rooting for the Wild Card with the Cardinals still in the good part of the NL Central standings, so I was glad to see the Giants take game one of their somebody's-gotta-lose series with the Reds.
For what it's worth—and you can clip and save this for the next time the Cardinals lose two in a row—the Reds have problems, too, though they didn't just attempt to fix one of them with Pedro Feliz. Laynce Nix and Jim Edmonds (who both could be headed to the DL) started in their outfield; Edinson Volquez showed off his newfound penchant for combustibility, recording just two outs more than Ross Ohlendorf; Mike Leake is hitting Jaime Garcia territory for innings pitched, and not responding quite so well.
It's an oddly constructed team, if you look at it; with Jay Bruce stagnant at 23 they're without an imposing bat in the outfield, and their second and third best hitters are Scott Rolen and Ramon Hernandez, which would normally be a bad thing. Their rotation has Arroyo, Cueto, and Leake and then 50 basically solid starts from five different guys. It's all working pretty well, their best players are playing at their best, and any holes have been filled with players who define the word acceptable; it's like the 2004 Cardinals rotation writ large.
These two teams have basically identical Pythagorean records; I'm worried about the extra 2.5 games the Cardinals have to make up, but from this day forward I think there's nothing except my own defensive pessimism to suggest the Reds are a better team.