Cardiac Cardinals: The Finger's On The Panic Button
When the 2010 season began for the Cardinals, life appeared to be good in Redbird Nation. Albert Pujols received his third (and second consecutive) NL MVP Award. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright were coming off of Cy Young caliber seasons. Matt Holliday, after hitting like a man with a mission, was back in the fold after signing the richest contract in club history. To top it off, Brendan Ryan had emerged as a star on the rise at shortstop, and the "Skip Schumaker as a second baseman" experiment seemed to have been a success. Indeed, the Cardinals looked to be the hands down favorites
Well, you know the popular saying about what assumptions make you and me.
To call the Cardinals' 2010 season turbulent would be like saying BP had a little bit of a leak in their pipe. A bit over dramatic, I know, but I digress.
This was supposed to be the team. There were simply too many positives. When you have two former batting champs with 30+ home run power batting third and fourth in the lineup everyday, and two shutdown ace pitchers anchoring your rotation, you're expected to win, and win big. To expect perfection every time out would be foolish. As fans, we expect that there will be losses throughout the course of the season. No team goes 162-0. But when you've got this much talent, you're expected to annihilate the weaker teams, and be able to hang with the big boys when games matter.
Now, in fairness, the Cardinals have done a pretty good job overall when it comes to playing winning teams. It's the inferior teams that have given the Cardinals fits this year. When your schedule gives you game after game after game against the likes of the Pirates, Cubs, Brewers, and Astros, those are the games that need to be won. Those are the games that you should be looking at on the schedule ahead of time and chalking up as wins. The fact of the matter, though, is that these are games that have more often than not ended up as losses for the Redbirds, and it's beyond maddening.
Perhaps I simply care too much. Growing up in St. Louis, Cardinals baseball was like a second religion, where the faithful are indoctrinated at an early age. Fans, young and old alike, are sold on the glory, tradition, and winning ways of their beloved Boys of Summer. Musial, Gibson, Brock, and Smith are still household names in these parts.
I can concede the fact that the Cardinals haven't exactly been a healthy team this year. Losing Brad Penny, Kyle Lohse, David Freese, Jason Motte, Nick Stavinoah, Ryan Ludwick (now with the Padres), and Jason LaRue for extended periods (and in some cases, the entire season) isn't easy at all to overcome. That's enough to make manager Tony LaRussa and GM John Mozeliak kill an entire case of Pepto each.
Now, there have been a few bright spots this season. Jaime Garcia showed all of baseball that he is a pitcher to be feared on the mound. Jon Jay defied all expectations and logic, and began hitting so well that fan favorite, and perennial power threat Ryan Ludwick was made expendable. Adam Wainwright has shown that last year's breakthrough was no fluke. David Freese showed, that when healthy, he can be a major presence in the lineup. Then there's Albert, who's simply up to his old tricks and antics again at the plate.
What no one out there expected was the bi-polar nature of this club. Brendan Ryan couldn't hit, then he could, then he couldn't again. Matt Holliday couldn't drive in runners in scoring position, then he caught fire, and now he's popping out with the bases loaded. LaRussa finds a lineup that completely demolishes an opposing pitcher, then it's different guys in there the next day. Winning streaks have been followed by unfathomable losing streaks like some sort of sick, unending cycle. Heck, even the now infamous brawl with the Reds that led the Cardinals to sweeping Cincinnati in beat down fashion couldn't generate sustained momentum or intensity.
All in all, it's enough to make you smack your head repeatedly into a wall or door out of frustration.
It may seem like I'm giving up. Quite the contrary. I will cheer for my boys wherever and whenever I can until the last pitch of the season has been thrown. After all, there's still a chance that things can be turned around, and a serious run can be made that will fulfill all expectations. Just look at what the Rockies did at the end of the 2007 season on their way to a World Series appearance. Stranger things have happened, but a lot needs to go right.
Every game from here on out is a big game, and should be treated as such. The Cardinals have shown a propensity this season for thriving when the games matter, but in order for good things to happen, they need to bring their "A Game" every night, and stop playing down to their level of competition. Can it happen? Yes. Will it happen? That remains to be seen.
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