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What the Cardinals must deal with, what they inflict on themselves

The Cardinals must extract value from Jake Westbrook. He's not their only option at starter, but he's clearly one of their five best options, and the Cardinals have him signed to a three-year deal in which he is going to have to be average-or-close-to-it. So his poor game was necessary. The Cardinals had to play a backup outfielder because Matt Holliday was a late scratch, and they had to play another one eventually because Lance Berkman is a 35-year-old with bad knees. 

They were perfectly fine throwing Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs out there, though in spite of Rzepczynski's own poor game I wouldn't have minded seeing him out there in Octavio Dotel's spot last night, given Dotel's combustibility. And Ryan Theriot—he's been terrible, but with Craig in the outfield it makes sense to start him against a left-hander, and it makes even more sense to bat him seventh. 

If they lose because Jake Westbrook walks five batters and Holliday is hurt and Berkman is old and Rzepczynski is wild—that's fine. The Brewers are a good team and their starting pitcher transplant seems to have gone off without a hitch. The Cardinals are a good team who've succeeded in spite of losing their best starter for the season and their best player, for large swaths of the season, to a terminal case of Jim Rice's Disease. 

Where the Cardinals frustrate is how they insist on taking teams on with players tied behind their collective back. Whoever's making decisions in and around the front office—Tony La Russa, John Mozeliak, the Ghost of Walt Jocketty, Corey Patterson—has constructed a solid team, and since then he's done everything possible to inflict mediocrity on it by a thousand players who should be cut. 

I can't blame the team because Jake Westbrook is having a so-so year and Adam Wainwright is hurt and Albert Pujols is only really good, but it's infuriating to see this team fumble the in-season questions—who's our questionably useful shortstop? Which reliever should we cut?—and almost maliciously muff the even smaller ones. Where should Corey Patterson hit, if he has to? 

The answer, in case you last checked in on Corey Patterson's career after 2003 or are in the process of winning the most games anyone not named Connie Mack ever has, is eighth, if he has to. Corey Patterson has surprising power and runs the bases well, but he never gets on the bases. He should be positioned in such a way as to make as few outs as the team's roster will bear, which means ideally the bench and in yesterday's case way down the batting order near Jake Westbrook, the other guy without a .300 OBP. 

All year the Cardinals have acted against their own best interest like this, in small ways—they've started Ryan Theriot too long and then dropped him entirely, carried three catchers, carried, somehow, too many relievers and not enough relievers, and now acquired and carried Corey Patterson specifically in spite of his skill-set being duplicated and bettered by their current starting center fielder. Among the suspects in their infield they seem unable to distinguish between Tyler Greene and Pete Kozma.  

Acts of Gods of Baseball aren't the team's fault unless they failed to adequately prepare for a scenario, or imagine it, but that's not what's sinking this team here in August—it's their inability to maximize the potential of the team they've had all along.