The St. Louis Cardinals entered this week with the chance to make up some ground in the division race against a couple of teams far below them in the NL Central standings: the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs. So what do they do? Drop two of three to the Bucs and start off their weekend tilt against the Cubbies by coughing up a lead late and losing 5-4 in 10 innings. It was the Cards’ 12th walk-off loss of 2011.
Is this how one plays “like a Cardinal?”
The really unfortunate thing about Friday’s loss is that it was a “same old, same old” kind of day. Poor defense and ineffective pitching out of the bullpen doomed the Cardinals. I swear I’ve written that same sentence a dozen times this year, and I don’t even think I’ve written that many posts since the start of the season. But it has been a running theme all year, starting on Opening Day and continuing through a number of big trades, releases, signings, and 125 games. The names and roles may be a little different but the results are the same. It is deflating. The silver linings seem do get duller and duller every day.
Plenty of blame can be spread around. In addition to the defense and bullpen woes, the Cards have gotten sporadic production from the rotation and games where it seems like the offense has taken the day off. And the coaching staff is not immune from responsibility, either. Tony LaRussa played Allen Craig in center field Friday…why? Is Jon Jay that bad? This is all very reminiscent of 2010. Has he once again snookered the Cards into trading a starting outfielder away so he could slide into that player’s spot and tank the rest of the season? Maybe that one falls on the front office.
Let me present one possible scenario in which the Cards may get back into this race: The 2011 season has about five and a half weeks left in it. In order for the Cardinals to catch and pass the Milwaukee Brewers, they would have to gain about a game and a half in the standings every week. It seems weird to think about it in those terms, but the alternative would be for the Brewers to fall into a long losing streak and the Cardinals to get on a long winning streak. I may be an eternal optimist, but I’m not delusional—neither of those events has much of a chance of happening. Putting absurd streaks aside, the Cards have to win all the rest of their series and the Brewers have to lose all the rest of theirs. Wow, even that sounds absurd.
If the Cards miss the playoffs again, it will be four out of five years years without postseason play in St. Louis. That has not happened since LaRussa became manager in 1996. Is it time to start asking questions about whether or not he will be back for 2012? Should we start worrying where Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Lance Berkman will be playing next season? These are things we thought we wouldn’t have to think about until sometime in October, yet with each loss dealing with those realities jumps one day closer.
Mathematically, the Cards are not eliminated. A lot can happen between now and the end of the season: players get hurt, bats go cold, momentum swings. Right now, all the good things are on the side of the Brewers and none of them are on the side of the Cardinals. But if the Cards are going to make a charge, they better do it soon. Actually, they should have started it yesterday. Because they are running out of tomorrows.