What do you do when your team has over a month to prepare for final exams?
On this, the last day of August 2009, The Cardinals (as predicted) have opened up a double digit lead in the NL Central over the horrifying racists better known as the Chicago Cubs. Their “magic number” decreased over the weekend to a very manageable 23.
The only thing left in 2009 that the Cardinals have to do is pour semi-descent champagne all over each other and act totally gay in a tiny room while other grown men take pictures and pretend like they’re a part of it.
Life is good for Cardinals fans; but that doesn’t mean that their isn’t work to be done in September by the team.
Here, in no particular order, are the 4 things the Cardinals must absolutely do if they want to have any shot at World Series 11.
1) Hit. The ridiculous hot stretch the Cardinals starters have had since July 1 has masked a very glaring problem the Cardinals have been plagued with all of 2009—no hitting.
On the surface, you look at the numbers of players like Matt Holliday and Albert Pools’ and think to yourself “these guys are killing it”, but you’d be wrong. As a team the Cardinals are batting .230 in the same timeframe and rank in the bottom half of the NL in runs scored per game, averaging just over three.
Individually, the Cardinals are doing well. There will be plenty of fine stats to toss around in off-season arbitration hearings.
Team hitting, though, is more important. And the Cardinals have yet to truly hit as a team since acquiring Holliday and Mark DeRosa. In two of the last 10 games the Cardinals have left more than 10 runners on base while scoring fewer than three runs.
LOB, as a general rule, should never be over twice your runs scored per game. Three times, though? That’s just begging for some excruciating playoff losses.
2) Focus. Thankfully the Cardinals are managed by baseball’s most relentless leader. But let’s face it- the Cardinals don’t have much to play for at this point, other than home field in the NL Playoffs.
Unlike the Rockies or Giants or Dodgers that will be fighting until the end of the season for position, the Cardinals don’t have a easy rally point to get behind. Throw in the inevitable "sit ‘em out and get ‘em healthy" games many of the veterans will get down the home stretch, it's imperative the Cardinals keep focused on winning.
We’ve all seen the team that’s too good in the regular season get beat out in the playoffs because they weren’t as sharp as their peak. Can’t let it happen here.
3) Establish a right-handed set-up man. Kyle McClellan and Jason Motte have been streaky at best and downright wetting the bed at worst in 2009.
Seeing as John Smoltz is making a late Cy Young charge on Root Beer Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, it figures he won’t be in the pen for the postseason, as many expected. That means the fine meatball servers posing as pitchers the Cardinals currently employ need to get some last month momentum moving towards October.
In all fairness, the Cardinals' pitching has been so dominant over the past two months that these two guys probably aren’t as bad as we’re making them out to be. But still, they look like Tim Hague trying to fight when they get called in.
4) Keep Pujols healthy. Albert is going to want to play every day. He’s going to want to cement that 2009 NL MVP award with a strong September. He’s going to want to push himself as hard, if not harder, than he has all season.
Tony LaRussa doesn’t generally care about what his players ask for. But with Albert, he oft defers.
Albert Pujols is the franchise. And though it’s easy to take this for granted, any aggravation whatsoever to his tenuous tendon in that elbow would be classified as a true September collapse. Puh-lease: keep Mr. Pujols healthy and ready to go for the playoffs.
That’s it. That’s the list. Do this and the rest is gravy. And by gravy I mean 11 wins for the 11th title. Wait a second. Did I just make the 2009 Cardinals official rally t-shirt? I think I did.
11 for 11.