It's amazing how much better this team looks when Albert Pujols goes 4-4 and hits a home run. For all the talk about Ryan Theriot and the inefficient starters and the way the Cardinals traded three years of uncertain future performance for one year of uncertain present performance, one easy way to explain about half of the Cardinals being four games back of the Brewers here in mid-August is that Albert Pujols has hit like an All-Star first baseman instead of Albert Pujols. All he's doing here in August is leading the league in home runs; in place of all those seven or nine win seasons that dot his Baseball-Reference page sits a lowly 3.1.
When he does that, this Cardinals team looks like it's going to fall asleep mid-rally; when he goes 4-4 and hits a home run everybody looks dialed in.
So if you were wondering about how the St. Louis Cardinals would look without Albert Pujols in the lineup every day—well, the best-case scenario looks a lot like this season, and that's only after Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman put together minor Albert Pujols seasons. If you have every faith in Matt Adams (slowed down but still hitting .321/.378/.605 in 91 Texas League games) to be the next Ryan Howard, you get this Albert Pujols in his peak years.
I'm not sure what the solution to this problem is except to excoriate the Cardinals again for trading away Colby Rasmus, who hasn't done a lot of hitting since joining the Blue Jays anyway. It's just that the next team that storms the division and wins going away is going to be a different one. They can do that with a potentially diminished Albert Pujols who might be too expensive but is liable to win an MVP any time in the first five years of the deal or they can do it with $25 million, and I'm interested to see what they choose and why. (Whichever decision they make, their success will have as much to do with how their current crop of prospects turns out as it does their final choice [Shelby Miller article plug].)
As far as Arthur Rhodes goes, I can't complain and I'm not surprised, although that first part is contingent on my being proven correct as far as Tony La Russa not sending him out against a ton of righties. The lefty specialists the Cardinals are still trying to replace—the good version of Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes—were sent out against left-handers well over half the time, which is not something managers always manage to do. (Even the gold standard of LOOGYdom, Mike Myers, faced lefties just 53% of the time.)
In any case he'll have to do better than the Rangers, who sent Rhodes against righties 60% of the time. (For his career Rhodes is at 68%, but for his career right-handed hitters aren't slugging .600 against him.)
Rhodes could well be done; he's lost two miles an hour on his fastball, and the 2011 Cardinals fanbase is the wrong one for a middle-aged reliever to beg for mercy when his case involves some recent success and a home run rate over two per game. But given the Cardinals' already-terrible roster construction I can't get angry about a roster spot being spent on a guy who may or may not be a useful reliever.