Cardinal Nation is collectively holding their breath, waiting for the Cardinals to get hot and make the run to the postseason like they did in 2011. It's almost as if the wait is becoming too much to bear as this year's squad still hasn't found their groove as the season is winding down.
Here are a list of five differences from this year's squad compared with the 2011 version of the Cardinals.
The bullpen has been a disappointment all season for the Cardinals. Last season, Tony LaRussa rode the bullpen all the way to the top of the mountain. He loved to pay the matchups, using Marc Rzepczynski in situational spots from the second half of the season and all the way through the postseason.
This season, the Cardinals haven't had a lefty they can rely on. Rzepczynski continues to be terrible and very hittable. He was basically worthless in his appearance against the Phillies on Sunday, walking the only two hitters he faced. Everyone is entitled to a bad outing every now and again, but this has been a season long epidemic for Rzepczynski.
Hopefully Marc can figure things out and continue to pitch a little better as opponents are batting .074 against him since the All-Star break.
Barret Browning was brought up to give Rzepczynski a break and started very well. Lately however, Browning has struggled on the bump, at least on the road. Browning has been lights out at home with a 1.04 ERA and his inner Harvey Dent has come out on the road with a 7.56 ERA.
The Cardinals also went out and took Brian Fuentes off the scrap heap and perhaps they should have left him there. Fuentes has a 9.00 ERA in his six appearances thus far.
If the Cardinals are going to make a serious run at the postseason, the bullpen needs to be shored up and quick, especially from the left side.
The Big Puma was a huge reason the Cardinals were crowned champions in 2011. He came in as an apparent washed up player and proved the entire world wrong. Berkman hit 31 home runs and drove in 94 runs to go along with a .301 average.
Seeing as Berkman was already under contract for 2012, the Cardinals were hoping for him to have a repeat of his 2011 season. Unfortunately, for the Puma and the Cardinals, Berkman's body had other ideas. He just hasn't been able to stay healthy and has only appeared in 28 games so far this season and has less than 100 at-bats.
Berkman has been the consummate teammate, professional and cheerleader this season for the Redbirds. Hopefully as the last 47 games wind down, Berkman will find a way to get his bat in the lineup and soon.
Last season, the Cardinals had a merry-go-round at the closer position. It started with a worn out Ryan Franklin who the Cardinals fans booed out of town. Things have to be bad for baseball's finest fanbase to boo someone so relentlessly.
Then the table turned to Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas and Tony LaRussa eventually settled on Jason Motte for September and the postseason.
This season, Jason Motte has managed to hold the closer spot down and has done a decent job in the process. While many fans don't care for the one-pitch-see-if-you-can-hit-it approach, Motte has been effective in the closer role this season. Motte has 26 saves in 30 chances and sports an impressive 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Additionally, Motte has a 0.84 ERA and opponents are batting a paltry .111 off him in the second half of the season.
Motte will be key if the Cardinals are going to have any chance of making the postseason in 2012.
The Cardinals were able to squeeze two World Championships and nine playoff appearances out of Tony LaRussa in his 16 seasons at the helm. When LaRussa stepped down at the end of the season, no one knew if world class pitching coach Dave Duncan would leave with him. As it turned out, Duncan has left the organization to spend more time with his wife and family.
Enter Mike Matheny and an almost entire new coaching staff. Matheny has done a nice job with the club this year considering all of the injuries and inconsistencies. Matheny has no previous managerial experience at any professional level and yet has seemed to take the keys from LaRussa and not run the Ferrari into the wall.
The question that remains to be answered and rightfully so is, can Matheny light a fire under his club like TLR did last season? If so, the Cardinals can be dangerous in the postseason as they proved to be last season.
December 8, 2011 is a day that will live in infamy in St. Louis and Los Angeles. For those who have moved on past the Pujols era, let me offer a quick reminder that is the day Albert Pujols left Cardinal nation in his rear view mirror.
Cardinal fans cheered from the rooftops as Pujols struggled to adapt to a new league, but as with all things Albert, the bat has come alive and Pujols is right in line with most of his career numbers.
Enter Carlos Beltran. The Cardinals were never thinking the signing of Beltran would pay such immediate dividends. After all, no one could expect Beltran, on the downside of his career, would be leading the league in RBI with 83 and second in home runs at 28 at the ripe age of 35. It's almost like Lance Berkman circa 2011 all over again.
Beltran has provided the punch the Cardinals were looking to replicate when Pujols left for the West Coast and frankly John Mozeliak hit it out of the park so to speak with the Beltran signing.