We’ve been down this Road before

The Cardinals’ increasingly exasperating 2010 campaign is stirring up memories of past seasons.

This year’s edition of the Cardinals was coming off a frustrating post-season loss to Los Angeles, and rolled into Opening Day as the odds-on favorite to win the NL Central and perhaps make a deep run in the post-season. With Albert Pujols and newly signed Matt Holliday anchoring the offense, the third base hole from 2009 seemingly solved by David Freese, a year of seasoning under Colby Rasmus’ belt, plus Ryan Ludwick and Yadier Molina, the offense looked solid. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright provided the bedrock for a rotation that included a reportedly healed Kyle Lohse, free agent acquisition Brad Penny and heralded rookie Jamie Garcia. On paper this was a juggernaut.

And for the first 27 games they played like one, sprinting to an 18-9 record and a five game lead in the Central. Since then they have been positively middling, posting a 50-47 record and falling 3.5 games behind Cincinnati. Injuries to Lohse, Penny, Rasmus and Freese, plus sub-standard offensive seasons from Molina, Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan have contributed to the team’s struggles. This pattern of futility is eerily reminiscent of a couple past Cardinal seasons under Tony LaRussa. Remember?

2006: 83-79, NL Central Champs

Some of the themes of 2010 were present in 2006.

Lost in the glow of the 2006 World Series title is how much that team struggled. In fact, the 2010 season trajectory looks a lot like 2006. Fresh from back-to-back 100-win seasons, the Cardinals were the odds-on favorite to win the National League, not just the division. They sprinted out of the gate 17-8 and ended April tied with Cincinnati atop the Central. From 1 May on, though, they put up a 66-70 record, and only clinched the division on the next to last day of the season thanks to Scott Spiezio’s triple.

Albert Pujols played the first two months of the season like he was a man possessed, hitting 25 HR over the first 52 games and posting a 1.199 OPS. Albert tweaked a hamstring on June 3 and spent most of the month on the DL. Mark Mulder’s arm woes first surfaced in a 28 May start in San Diego. He would struggle for another 21.2 innings and be shut down for the season in August. Jim Edmonds missed most of September while recovering from two concussions sustained in July and August. Scott Rolen’s lingering shoulder injury continued to limit him, and his simmering private feud with LaRussa spilled into the print pages. Jason Isringhausen’s hip issues flared up again, and he didn’t throw a pitch after 6 September.

The team acquired a pitcher mid-season (Jeff Weaver). Walt Jocketty also found a bat (Rafael Belliard) to shore up second base.

Assisting the Cardinals in 2006, the entire division played sub-.500 ball from May 1 on.

  • Houston: 66-72 (finished 82-80)
  • Cincinnati: 63-73 (finished 80-82)
  • Milwaukee: 61-76 (finished 75-87)
  • Pittsburgh: 60-76 (finished 67-95)
  • Chicago: 53-86 (finished 66-96)

That St Louis team was able to weather the storm, right the ship, and get into the post-season.

2003 – Third Place NL Central (85-77)

This team most closely approximates what we are witnessing in 2010.

The biggest memory I have of the 2003 season is playing a September 5-game series in Chicago and losing four of those games.

The 2003 team was also coming off back-to-back post-season appearances, and a frustrating NLCS loss to San Francisco. This was Dusty Baker’s first season in Chicago and there was a lot of hope on the North Side since he had guided the Giants to that World Series appearance. Most observers figured, however, the division would come down to St Louis and Houston, like it had the previous two seasons.

This Cardinal team was relatively injury-free, apart from second base which was manned by Bo Hart while Fernando Vina spent 2 months on the DL. JD Drew missed part of April and all of August with nagging injuries, but of the main players that was it. The biggest issue the 2003 team had was the starting rotation. Woody Williams and Matt Morris were not exactly Carpenter/Wainwright, but they were a capable 1-2 punch at the top (29-17, 3.82 ERA). Behind them the Redbirds ran Brett Tomko, Garrett Stephenson, and either Jason Simontacchi or 22-year old Dan Haren out to the mound (32-34, 5.10 ERA).

In 2003 the Cardinals were never more than 8 games over .500, and like the 2010 version spent most of the summer chasing another team – in this case, the Cubs. They were never more than 4 games out of first all the way through August, and entering that 5-game series they actually led the division by a game. The Cardinals lost 2 of the first 3 games, then led 7-3 in the fourth game entering the bottom of the seventh inning. But the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, and an emergency relief appearance by Woody Williams in the bottom of the eighth didn’t work either, as St Louis lost 8-7. The next day they scored 2 in the top of the first and led 5-3 after 4 1/2; but the Cubs roared back and eventually won 7-6 thanks to a Tony Womack single.

St Louis then lost 5 of their next 8, slipped 5.5 games back, and were done. Although the 2010 Cardinals did not lose the last series in the ballpark of their closest rival in the standings, their performance since that series is just like 2003.


Using the 2006 team as the example, Cardinal fans know any team managed by Tony LaRussa cannot be counted out, and may ultimately find a way into the post-season. Using the 2003 season as the example, this club may already be sliding into obscurity. What this year’s team needs is a ‘Scott Spiezio moment’ to snap them out of their current funk. Many of us thought that would be the Cincinnati sweep two weeks ago, but it clearly was not, as the club has staggered along with a 4-7 record since that series ended. They are not sunk yet – there are 37 games left, including one more set against the Reds – but as the season grows late, this year begins to look more and more like 2003 revisited.

Which will not satifsy anyone. Especially the guys in the clubhouse.

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