It seems to be stupid to be writing a eulogy for a first place team (tied for first), but as we've been saying for some time, this really isn't the National League's year. The Cardinals, like the rest of the NL, have zero percent chance of beating the team that wins the King of the Mountain contest on the AL side this October.
There's always next year.
By that I mean that I expect the Cardinals to still make the playoffs. The wildcard is still available and assuming that no other team is willing to step up and take advantage of the weak-hearted play of these birds over the last few weeks of the season, they should clinch a playoff spot by winning the division or assuming the wildcard. So, they'll get one series. They might even play in two series. But beyond that, I wouldn't expect much from this current collection. The pitching is far too sporadic and the hitting too untimely. The fielding up the middle – long a Cardinal strength – is more softball rec league than World Series solid. In the third world nation that is the Nat, they could play a few games in the postseason, but asking for more than that is like asking for the hoosier in front of you to put his shirt back on. You can hope, but it just isn't gonna happen.
So, there's always next year.
Actually, I mean that in a Cubs sort of way. The Cub fans are familiar with the ol' ‘next year' quote. They do get to use it every year, after all. But they don't say it thinking, "next year this team will be good and will win the World Series!" They mean it like, "there's always next year…to go sit in the bleachers and drink Old Style and laugh and enjoy a game that we don't really care about the outcome and have fun skipping work."
Cardinal fans might want to get familiar with that type of next year, as well. Teams are built to be competitive for a certain period of time. During that three-to-five year window, the organization hopes to win as many championships as possible. After that, the team needs to re-load and re-set to build towards another competitive window. If a team completely changes the roster every year to try to win every year, the team has a hard time building chemistry and putting together good runs (this does not apply to the Florida Marlins, who put together one good team a decade and win the World Series, only to then blow it apart to suffer for eight more years).
Depending on your level of optimism it can be argued that the Cardinals' window started to slide open in 2001, when Albert Pujols burst onto the scene. The team also had Mark McGwire (pre-total destruction of his reputation) and Jim Edmonds in his prime to lead the way. Those more pessimistic fans would argue that the window flew open in 2004, when the Cardinals became background noise for a million Red Sox "Ending The Curse" video montages. Either way, 2006 is the year that will mark the window closing. As bad as 2006 has been, 2007 will be worse. The management has already said (and showed) that they aren't going to throw money at more big name players. Many of the players that are in the fold are aging past their primes. Aside from Pujols, do you really believe that anyone on today's roster will have a better year in 2007 than they are having today? I do not. I expect a backslide from most of the roster players and the team's performance as a whole.
There's always next year.
So, maybe enjoy this last crack at the playoffs that we may see for some time. Who cares that the division and the league are weak? Let's just hope that we get a few playoff games here in the new building, because there won't be any next year.
It can't be that bad. We can still enjoy having fun and drinking $85 beers and chowing $28 hotdogs (jumbo size).
After all, the Cub fans have gotten used to it.
-Sean "there's always next beer" Gallagher
EDITOR's NOTE: St. Louis Game Time is the official print publication of The Birdhouse. It can be purchased before all home games at the stadium and is also available by email subscription. For more content, visit www.StLouisGameTime.com.