Adam Wainwright aside—
Okay, okay. Beginning an entry with "Adam Wainwright aside" on Viva El Birdos would, admittedly, be a little like that time SB Nation's old Our American Cousin blog, SB Nation Our American Cousin, coined the phrase, "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play show theater tickets schedule play tickets?" (SEO was important; lots more newspapers at the time, and far fewer search users.)
But I must. So, taking into account the fact that Adam Wainwright's unexpected elbow surgery is the major catastrophe of the age; that they probably lost four or five wins at that moment, and have no way of getting them back; that they're now very reliant not only on Kyle Lohse, who hasn't been quite right since signing a contract I don't want to talk about, but also Jaime Garcia, who, Spring Training results aside, is a second-year starter who threw a lot of innings after a very quick comeback from his own elbow surgery.
Aside from that, Tony La Russa's Spring Training couldn't have gone much better than it did.
I offer as evidence the fact that Sports Illustrated picked the Cardinals to finish with just 78 wins this year.
Either they don't think much of the Cardinals or just subtracted the number of pitcher-wins they thought Adam Wainwright would finish with from their earlier prediction, but I don't think that matters. What matters is that the Cardinals are now back in Tony La Russa's intensely claustrophobic, nightmarish iron maiden of a sweet-spot—they're the underdogs who everybody counted out, who nobody believed in, and who must deal with that by winning 90 games in an Venusian atmosphere of anxious paranoia and insularity.
I mean, it works for him.
The Cardinals remain, so far as I can tell, the projectionists' favorites for the NL Central crown; PECOTA puts them uncomfortably close to the MIlwaukee Brewers, with a 43.8% chance of making the playoffs, while the Brewers hang around 38. But the narratives could not be any less in their favor, which is why Steve Berthiaume picked the Astros in that omnibus predict-off ESPN did of area Red Sox fans.
The Astros! Things have been difficult for the Cardinals ever since Adam Wainwright was assassinated by that states-rights advocate, but the Astros never had Adam Wainwright in the first place, except when Bud Norris pitched against the Cardinals.
For us as fans, I think this is perfect. The Sports Illustrated stuff doesn't get to me consciously, but there's something great about watching baseball without sky-high expectations—namely that I don't yell as much. It's fun to root for underdogs, which is why every college basketball team is so keen on pretending they're one. Playing the team-to-beat while expecting 90 starts from Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, and Jaime Garcia is just unsustainable; it's a little ridiculous that the talking heads have extrapolated from that the idea that the Reds are the prohibitive favorites, but I'm fine with where this puts us as people who've signed up to watch most of the next 162 Cardinals games.
For Tony La Russa, I know this is perfect. The Sports Illustrated stuff is proof that these guys don't understand the importance of playing a hard nine, that they overvalue one guy in a team game. Other people don't understand the Cardinals, which is why they're always underdogs. Jason LaRue's bloody shirt will be waved, during the first Reds series, during a stirring speech delivered to the ESPN guys between innings.