That being said the one lesson that I learned from last year is that there's more to a great regular season team and a team that wins it all in October. At this point, we don't have the October team. The team hasn't shown the ability to hunker down and fight there way through adversity. Many might cite (and rightfully) the rally against Cincinnati May 2nd, but recent struggles against horrid teams (splitting a four game homestand against the worst road team in the league) and their inability to hit left-handed pitching (Jeff Francis?) as well as struggles against very mediocre pitching staffs recently.
The complaint isn't that this team isn't good enough to win consistently—a quick look at the standings will tell you otherwise. It's that the Cards don't seem to win the games that they're supposed to win. The "killer instinct" seems to come and go inversely proportional to the strength of their opponents.
Many have commented on the fact that the Cardinals have just not been able to "put it together" very often this season. Buoyed mainly by a rock-solid pitching staff, the offense has sputtered. With the starting rotation going through a rough patch (I'd like to go a week without hearing about Mulder, Marquis or Suppan struggling…) the inconsistency of the offense has been more glaring.
Sure Walker's not right and Edmonds and Sanders have been banged up. Rolen is still not up to speed and while Grudzielanek has been defensively surprising as of late, his bat seems to have gone missing. The last few games have actually offered a glimmer of hope—while it's still feast or famine the Cardinals have shown some of that explosive power and balance that made the Cardinals a force to be reckoned with.
While I've been one of the "we need another outfielder" guys, it's not because the quality of guys we have out there. The fact is that Walker, Edmonds and Sanders when healthy still make up the nucleus of one of the most well-balanced outfields in all the majors, but as hope in Walker's ability to be an everyday player quickly fade and only Edmonds secured through next season a move to a younger power guy only makes sense. In other words the problem isn't chemistry—it's whether or not this trio is going to be physically able to go the distance.
And that leads me to my gripe with Tony La Russa. I've agreed with Tony a lot more than I've disagreed with him this season, but from where I'm standing I see him overusing some of the guys. I love watching Yadi Molina behind the plate as much as the next guy, but Einar Diaz was signed for a reason and keeping Molina behind the plate for these marathon stretches doesn't strike me as a wise use of either player. And I know Pujols is a gamer. I know Rolen was injured and the reserves were being used a lot, but Rolen is back so give Albert a day off every few weeks. I know he wants to be out there everyday, but hopefully I'm not the only one who saw a team running on fumes in the World Series last year. Watching Chris Carpenter pitch complete games is a blast, but given the guy's past arm/shoulder problems and the experience with Woody Williams during his All-Star year—fading after overuse during the first half of the season. I realize his pitch counts haven't been insanely high, but with a comfortable lead over the fading Cubs, I don't think it's inappropriate to start thinking about the long-term health of this team for the post-season.
As they say, an ounce of prevention…
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