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The Near-Competent Cardinals

For what the National League Central usually is the Cardinals' 10-9 record since C-Day isn't especially bad—it's awkward, because the single best performance in the entire trade has come from Octavio Dotel, but not especially bad. You can blame the Cardinals for just not being good enough in the first place, and we've done that over and over in the right places—the ill-conceived middle infield, the injury problems, Albert Pujols's disappointing start and the rotation's increasing reluctance to go six innings—but the problem here isn't that the Cardinals are a 12-7 team playing at 10-9, it's that the Brewers have gone 15-2 in the same period. 

It's a good Brewers team, and aside from Casey McGehee (are they really this reluctant to try Mat Gamel at third base?) everybody's playing at full strength. It's not a 15-2 team, but it's a team that could plausibly go 15-2 over this kind of stretch, especially with Zack Greinke's ERA matching his peripherals. 

I think this Cardinals team already had that moment for themselves—when Kyle Lohse had an ERA of 1.65, Kyle McClellan had four wins, and the Cardinals were still only 16-11—but if the Cardinals were in this position we would still be looking anxiously at the Magic Number every five minutes, so there's still baseball to be watched. 

Yesterday's Thing To Be Frustrated By was Jake Westbrook, the only Cardinals starter who hasn't yet gotten one of those nice runs where it looks like he's going to be pretty good every time out. Westbrook's walk rate is almost half a walk per nine innings higher than his career average, and his home run rate is just a little bit higher, and when you don't strike anybody out and the infield isn't putting together any especially extraordinary double plays on your ground balls—it's a frustrating combination. Yesterday his strikeout-to-walk ratio was just fine and the sinker was working brilliantly, but the ground balls weren't the right kind.

This is why I like strikeouts—nearly every one of them is the right kind. 

It could be that this team is so frustrating because no one starter has been able to take an extended stint as the totally justified whipping boy—Ryan Franklin flew too far away from the sun, and wasn't able to stick long enough as the mustache-twirling cause of all our angst; Ryan Theriot was an adequate hitter until he suddenly wasn't, and then the Cardinals went and got Rafael Furcal; Jake Westbrook's ERA has been terrible, but his FIP has always been better enough that to say so is to risk being out-sabermetricked. I could really go for a Kip Wells about now. 

The 2010 team was frustrating like this, too—there was the rotating crowd at third base, and Kyle Lohse for half a season, but everybody else was either outstanding or just not quite good enough. You have to go back to 2008 to find a particularly great group of losers, though they come with caveats; Cesar Izturis and Adam Kennedy were defensive wizards just a year before defensive statistics went mainstream on Fangraphs. Joel Pineiro was basically Jake Westbrook this year, but Randy Flores, Ron Villone, and Jason Isringhausen were perfect bullpen villains. 

If Miguel Batista and Ryan Franklin had been combined into one super-terrible reliever who spread his awfulness out over the course of the entire season things might be different, and I could be more righteously angry. But right now all I can be when I think about the post-deadline team's near-competence is sad.