St. Louis Cardinals: Has the Window Closed?

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St. Louis Cardinals: Has the Window Closed?
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 07: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on during a game against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on August 7, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Before the season started, the Cardinals already had a lot on their plate: ace pitcher Adam Wainwright was declared injured for the entire year, and Albert Pujols and management never seemed to be close on a contract extension.

Nothing has really been going right for the Cardinals this year, and it seems the organization has taken a few steps back, putting themselves in worse position than they were a year ago. Last year, Joey Votto and the underdog darling Cincinnati Reds edged out St. Louis to win the NL Central crown. This was despite the fact that the Cardinals had ended the season on a five-game win streak and had a plus-95 run differential.

This year the Milwaukee Brewers, sensing blood in the water with their star player Prince Fielder about to hit free agency, went all out and acquired Cy Young-winning pitcher Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals. Behind two All-Star players in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brew Crew currently boast a pitching staff with four 10-plus game winners in Randy Wolf, Zack Greinke, Shawn Marcum and Yovani Gallardo. The Brewers currently hold over an eight-game lead over the Red Birds.

While the Brewers have been dominating opponents, the Cardinals have been losing series after series to lesser teams, unable to put together even the modest of win streaks. Every day you check the scores, it seems the Cardinals have only won one or two games in a row, or have lost several more.

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 20: Lance Berkman #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals walks back to the dugout after striking out during the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on August 20, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

The low point of the season came in mid-June when the Birds went on a seven-game losing streak, getting swept by the Brewers and the Nationals and losing once more to the Royals. Days afterwards, they were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Most fans could see the writing on the wall when Colby Rasmus was traded for peanuts at the deadline. Once again, manager Tony LaRussa could not swallow his pride and ran off another Cardinals star. Instead of being an established player like Scott Rolen, this time it was the young center fielder Rasmus.

Rasmus was considered to be a great five-tool player, who was going to get better and better every year. Many believed he could be the heir to Jim Edmonds, patrolling the outfield in St. Louis, but it was not to be. Citing problems in the clubhouse and with Rasmus' attitude, LaRussa forced management’s hand into trading Rasmus for some bullpen help and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, who is only signed for this year and will undoubtedly test free agency in the offseason.

Albert Pujols has suffered a career worst year, hitting below .300 for the first time. Pujols may find himself unable to post 100 RBI for the first time in career as well. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on if you view the glass half full or empty, there is Lance Berkman, who is having a renaissance year. Berkman will almost assuredly take his talents to a team who is willing to shell out some big bucks and more than a one-year contract after the year he has had himself.

Despite Pujols’ play, all attention must be focused on him this offseason, and fans must be assured that every penny that is going to be spent will be sent Pujols’ way.

It is unclear exactly what Pujols wants since players don’t just come out and tell the public what they’re looking for (unless they’re Derek Jeter). So we are left to play the guessing game.

Does Albert want to retire a Cardinal? If so, then why is he demanding as much as $30 million per season—a paycheck that would cripple the team for the foreseeable future? Such a hefty salary would leave the Cards in a bad position to acquire depth for the team and to bring in other players like Matt Holliday, who was brought in awhile back to protect Pujols and build another World Series champion.

The future is uncertain in St. Louis. Will Chris Carpenter be signed for the rest of his career or will he be allowed to test the market? Jackson and Berkman will most likely be gone. Rasmus is gone as well. Is John Jay going to replace him? What is going to happen to Rafael Furcal and Jake Westbrook? Will Pujols be in St. Louis next year?

With so much uncertainty, it’s hard to be optimistic about the future. Before the All-Star break, the Pirates looked like a team on the rise. And with their young team, there is still plenty of time ahead to build on what they did. If the Reds hadn’t taken a step back, they still might be vying for supremacy with the Brewers, who currently hold the lead in the Central. Chicago finally gave their GM Jim Hendry the boot; will new management finally fix that train wreck and get them back on the winning path?

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