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The St. Louis Cardinals' oddly specific October flashback


I'd forgotten just how fun the weird, shaky baseball the St. Louis Cardinals played in the 2011 postseason was to watch. Friday, in a thankfully lower-leverage but still important situation, they replayed it: The starter struggled early (and was pulled aggressively), a series of relievers came in and overachieved, and after an uncomfortable silence the Cardinals' broad-based, ostensibly underachieving offense whirred into life and began throwing singles and home runs at Mat Latos.

The Lynn thing's a worry. I find the specific concerns people have about him a little weird, inasmuch as I don't think he has a first-inning problem or a conditioning problem or a mental fortitude problem. It's impressive and heartening that he's been able to maintain his startlingly high strikeout rate all the way into August, and whether he's pitching well or badly. But in August his control has deteriorated, both visually and statistically.

We might not notice if his BAbip weren't at .360 for the second month out of three, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth noticing.

Which isn't to say it's worth acting on. Generally I'm in favor of any move that reiterates Lynn's importance in the rotation--bumping him for a start so that he'll be fresher in September, or something--and not in favor of any move that suggests that the month he's had predicts the month he'll have next, which should therefore be avoided by putting him in the bullpen or telling him the season's over and being really convincing about it or giving Joe Kelly a velvet uniform and a scepter and the shelf full of Hungoes that Al Hrabosky clearly wants to give him.

Lynn's second-worst month was two months ago; his second-best month was one month ago. This is evidence that he won't always be as good as he is at his best, not that he's about to be this bad all the time.

The other stuff—well, the other stuff was pretty great.

The Edward Mujica move was weird and remains weird--I wasn't expecting the Cardinals to dump Zack Cox so quickly, and when they did I wasn't expecting it to be a challenge trade for a reliever. He seemed like one of those exotic, difficult-to-value securities that the Cardinals were going to hang onto because nobody had any clue what the market should look like.

(Mujica's a weird reliever, though, so that's just fine. It's not often you see an above-average reliever whose primary skill is pinpoint control, and it's not often you see a guy with pinpoint control who's daily-driver pitch is a splitter. I get the feeling Dave Duncan would have turned him into Kyle Lohse in 2013.)

In any case, the Cardinals' bullpen past Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs consisted mostly, a month ago, of players who were very difficult to evaluate. It's been pleasant to have an extra guy in the bullpen who, per the results of two other teams' careful testing, appears to be at least average. (That he's been much better than average is, obviously, better still.)

With Fernando Salas, whose second-half renaissance has not been entirely surprising, he gives the Cardinals something they had late in 2011: A bunch of unembarrassing options for the sixth and seventh innings who are, as luck would have it, pitching much better than that anyway.

The offense—well, it's a good offense. It's always been a good offense, and when we've complained about it that's only because every part of a team is awarded a loss equally, and it gets boring to constantly talk about the bullpen. The thing I don't get about the current call—for more consistency—is that, if I understand the word right, you're either asking for the offense to have scored even more runs than it has already or for the offense to have scored fewer runs on other occasions, to fill in, say, its middling August.

The first one is code for hit better; The second one is sidling into dangerous territory, pitching- and hitting-to-the-score territory. It's going to get you on Jack-Morris-for-the-Hall-of-Fame mailing lists, and that should be enough to warn you off it. But unless you can argue for the strong version of that possibility—that the Cardinals should be able to score five runs all the time, unless they need more than that, and stop abruptly at 10 to save some hits for later—you're going to lose some 7-6 and 6-4 and even 9-6 games in the course of making this offense run, somehow, more smoothly.

I'll take the inconsistency. Eventually all those hits you've been waiting for while you've been standing on the hose by accident shoot out all at once, and you've got seven consecutive baserunners and back-to-back home runs. The only way you can ever score six runs in an inning is inconsistently.