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Taking the Temperature

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What looked to be an evenly matched series between playoff rivals is looking more and more like a war of attrition our boys in red just can't win.

Ezra Shaw

This isn't going to be exceptionally long or meaningful this morning; there seems to be so little to talk about in the middle of the huge thing we're all talking about that the thought of trying to write a big column on anything in particular is at least slightly absurd.

Here's the thing: I think the Cardinals are in huge trouble. Adam Wainwright could easily be busted. Yadier Molina is almost assuredly compromised to the point of no longer really representing that thing you ordinarily have Yadier Molina on the roster for. Trevor Rosenthal has looked shakier than shaky, even when he's not out and out handing over a lead to the opposition by dint of the most extreme, absurd assortment of control problems, including the always-entertaining 53 foot fastball of doom. Beyond Rosenthal, the bullpen has been about as good as can be expected, even with the results factored in, but the end results have still been mighty dark in a strictly scoreboard sense. Which is to say, the Redbirds find themselves currently in a rather nasty hole.

When you have a team that is, let's face it, somewhere between mediocre and just solid enough for the majority of the season, and then take away that club's best pitcher and most important overall player, what are you left with? This isn't just a hypothetical question, unfortunately; for our 2014 Cardinals, that query represents the absolute reality of the situation right now. The clock looks very near to striking midnight; if anything, it looks as if at least a few players on this roster have already decided to turn into pumpkins early.

Back when Ben and I recorded last week's edition of the VEB podcast, I predicted the Cardinals would win in something like six games. Maybe seven. I thought these were two very evenly matched clubs, with just enough factors sitting on the Cards' side of the ledger to ultimately tilt it in their direction. However, it was a close call for me, and I freely admit my perception may have been at least somewhat coloured by recency bias, in the form of the dinger camp we all saw in the NLDS against the Dodgers. Suddenly, what had been an anemic and frustrating offense all season more closely resembled the collective mental picture most of us had coming into 2014; take an offensive attack which was, most damningly, extraordinarily short of power, and inject a huge dose of power into it, and it's pretty miraculous just how much better the whole enterprise can look.

And, to the Redbirds' credit, the power hasn't really gone anywhere in this series. Game 2's four-homer barrage was both great entertainment and an absolute necessity, as the Cards needed every one of those homers to eke out the slimmest of victories. Watching Randal Grichuk bash a ball off the foul pole yesterday was an ode to a deeply flawed process yielding deeply awesome results; even as I was celebrating said dinger, I couldn't help but think to myself, "And maybe if the manager hadn't put the guy who should really never bat against a righthander in the lineup against Tim Hudson we wouldn't just be looking at a tie now." But such thoughts are unbecoming, I suppose, and ungrateful, and most importantly, pointless. Bitching that the manager has apparently decided to make this season -- and postseason -- a challenge run of sorts by ensuring his club has at least one figurative hand tied behind its metaphorical back at all times is, at some point, an essentially useless exercise. Stupidity in the decision-making process by the manager is frustrating, of course, but the more elemental problem with this club is simply this: the Cardinals might have one hand tied behind their backs by the manger, but thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, that one-handed approach is completely overshadowed by the two broken ankles they're trying to figure out how to walk on.

I felt the Cardinals had just enough to beat the Giants when the series began, believing Adam Wainwright could be something resembling Adam Wainwright and the club's most irreplaceable component would play the entire series. Neither of those things appear to be true now, and I no longer feel the same as I did at the outset. I hope the series gets back to St. Louis, but I certainly wouldn't be shocked if it didn't.

In the harsh light of this particular October morning, it's tough to look at the club the Cardinals are fielding, with an ace who looks like he may be overdue for his appointment with the elbow fairy, an MVP-caliber catcher riding the pine with a busted side, a closer who can't find the strike zone most nights, and a field general whose decisions, on the whole, seem only slightly more considered than those of General Jack D. Ripper, and have any confidence things aren't teetering on the edge of a cliff.

So how are you feeling, everyone? Marginally more optimistic, I hope?