Lest I be criticised this morning as nothing more than a nattering nabob of negativity, I sat down at my computer determined to write up something really sunshiny I could blow up the blog's collective, um, exhaust fan. That works, right? Awesome.
There's really only one problem with trying to write something positive in the wake of your team losing two in a row to the free-falling-like-Tom-Petty Pittsburgh Pirates and sliding two games further back in the division: there really isn't enough sugar in the world to coat this crap properly.
Oh, and before I forget, it isn't really quite late enough in the season, but I do think the Brewers' lead has grown to the point where this becomes appropriate. Both the Cards and Milwaukee have 39 games remaining on the schedule. If the Brewers play at even a one game under pace, the Cardinals would have to go 26-13 the rest of the way just to tie. A run of .667 ball is certainly not an impossible feat, but it's really feeling unlikely at this point. Particularly seeing as how this team has failed to win five games in a row yet this season. On the other hand, if I wanted to be really positive about things, I suppose I could say the Cards haven't gone on a real winning run yet, and they're due for one before the season comes to a close. Who's with me?!
Anyhow, the Cardinals have lost two in a row to the Pirates, our perfectly cromulent closer served up a meatball, and there is no joy in Mudville, mighty Shelby has passed out. (I'm thinking of doing a rework of the poem.) Kind of a rough day to try and come up with a lollipops and handjobs post, you know?
So short of any actual good news today I'm going to hope. I'm going to hope this team's likely failure to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years (barring an epic collapse by the Brew Crew or a run of truly inspired play by El Birdos, that is, which seems unlikely considering the team hasn't had a really good September since 2002), will somehow prove the catalyst that moves this organisation to take a long, hard look at the way they're going things, and perhaps finally realise they need to make some changes.
The Cardinals have, for the past decade, enjoyed the presence of one of the very best hitters in the history of the game sitting smack dab in the middle of the lineup (and collecting a salary almost comically below market value all the while), enabling the team a galaxy of bizarre roster decisions with a safety net. Roster spots at the margins have been routinely filled with, well, filler, as the team has given away value hand over fist rather than cultivate a roster capable of contributing in all phases of the game. The sole exception at the moment is the bullpen, which besides being one of the best relief corps in all of baseball as currently constructed is also a remarkably lean operation. The only veteran rentals in extant are Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel, and neither of them are really costing the Cards much of anything anyway.
This isn't about Tony La Russa, despite what some of you may be thinking right now. It's about the organisation finally being forced to wake up and realise that despite a Hall of Fame manager with his own cult of personality and the most prolific slugger of his generation together in the dugout for the last eleven seasons, the club has but one championship to show for it and hasn't made any real noise of being a title contender in the last five years. It's about waking up to the fact the roster has to be put together in a better, more efficient way if this team hopes to win big without raising payroll by 30% or more in the next three years.
Two years in a row now the Cardinals have come up small when they most needed to come up big down the stretch. They consistently fail to take care of business against the dregs of the league, and not all of it can be blamed on Bud Norris. Some, yes. All? No.
So that's my hope for this team and this oh so frustrating season. They went all in, hoping to cash in on the final season they could afford Albert Pujols, and it isn't working out all that well. The season may very well have been doomed the day Adam Wainwright went down after all, which is just heartbreaking to think.
This year, for better and for worse, is the last year of an era in Cardinal baseball. The organisation has had the safety net of the greatest 13th round draft pick in history supporting them up until now. Like it or not, that safety net is gone next season; either just not there or sucking up a quarter of the payroll on his own. Maybe watching this all in team's playoff hopes slowly slump off into the sunset will be the wakeup call this club needs to finally start planning for the future in a serious way, rather than bandaging over the scrapes and winning the division only when no other team can muster 87 wins.
Oh, and one last thing before I go: is anyone else as tired of watching other teams' walkoff celebrations as I am?