Cards Could Use a Little Mo

Some questions heading into the playoffs.


This is such an awkward time to be a Cardinal fan.  I figured out pretty quickly that my hopes of an undefeated season would be dashed after the second game of the season when Houston beat St. Louis 4-1 at Houston.  I agonize through every loss, which makes this post-clinch stretch seem interminable.  The just concluded two-game sweep by the Astros made it apparent that these were two teams playing to different purposes, neither of which meets the needs of a true Cardinal fan.


Now as the team gears up for the final three regular season games against the Reds, I'd like to see an increase in game tempo by the Redbirds with the thought that they might carry some winning momentum in to the playoffs.  Think momentum isn't of value?  Ask the Boston Red Sox, whose late season surge carried them like a runaway freight train right through a four-game sweep of the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. 


The Astros are playing like a team possessed.  After a horrific start which left many believing they were out of playoff contention by the All-Star break, their record since then is one game better than the Cardinals after last night.  The Astros are riding the kind of momentum the Red Sox enjoyed in 2004.  They certainly have the starting pitching to be a huge factor in post-season, their offense is crisp, their attack relentless.  Sounds like the Cards of a month ago, doesn't it.?


I recognize that the Cardinals priority recently has been to stay healthy.  During last night's game a shallow fly ball was hit toward left fielder Reggie Sanders.  He charged the ball at first, then pulled up and took it on two hops.  The result was an Astros single.  Clearly Sanders might have been able to catch the ball had he run crazily, hurled himself forward, and tried to make a shoestring catch.  Clearly, too, Sanders was playing to avoid further injury, which is smart for a game of little consequence.  Some fans to my left booed his effort, but most realized that a healthy Sanders who doesn't make that catch is more important at this point than a crippled Sanders who makes the catch and is lost for the playoffs.  Sometimes not hustling is smart play.


Surprisingly not all of the Cardinals, some of whom should be, are on that same page.  Center fielder Jim Edmonds threw himself at a sinking pop-up to shallow left-center.  Rather than pull up and accept the single, Edmonds tried to make that diving catch.  He missed it, tumbled head over heels, and darn near hurt himself.  He sat on the wet grass for a time which knotted Tony La Russa's stomach into a noose.  La Russa glared out of the dugout at Edmonds, his blazing eyes screaming out the question that was on everyone's lips – "Jimmy, are you nuts?"  David Eckstein also took a few tumbles that raised eyebrows.


During this period of conservatism that would elate Bill O'Reilly, the Cardinals' record over the past nine games is 2-7.  Four times Chris Carpenter has taken the mound to notch his 22 win and four times he has failed, actually losing only once.  His ERA over those games was 9.33.  Albert Pujols' batting average has slumped to .329, down a half dozen points from a week ago, but still very impressive.  Reggie Sanders continues to work himself back in to playing condition after his two month rehabilitation.  Jason Isringhausen's entry into the game last night in a non-save situation had predictable results.


Although I recognize that this attention to health is necessary, it would be a pleasure to see a Houston-like approach to these last three games.  If the Cardinals want to enter the post-season with some momentum, they'll need to shrug off the somnambulence, commit themselves to playing hard, and prepare for the playoffs with energy, determination, and the relentlessness that has been the hallmark of the 2005 regular season.  I'm afraid that if they don't renew their assault on the 2005 World Series soon, they may find themselves playing catch-up during the playoffs.  That's a dangerous situation to be in, even for putative World Champions.


Rex Duncan

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