That’s the word that best describes the Cardinals and how their season ended this week. You could see the cracks forming, just as they did last postseason when Carpenter got hurt. Reyes goes down before the playoffs. Then Nunez goes down, forcing John Mabry and Hector Luna into duty at 3rd and thinning the bench. Sanders dings himself on one of the strangest plays I’ll ever see.
And as bad as Phil Cuzzi was behind home plate in Game 4, and I don’t think we need to spend time debating he was awful, the Cardinals melted down in ways Houston didn’t. They seemed tight, as if the weight of being the National League’s best team all year finally began to bring them down. That same unrelenting focus and professionalism that allowed the team to stay on target during the season made it hard to loosen up and play when the pressure began to increase. I’ve heard from a few sources that they’re one of the most boring teams to cover, not because they don’t play good ball or aren’t good people. They do and they are. It’s just they are so focused, they don’t give media types much to discuss beyond baseball x’s and o’s.
I could feel the Cardinal Nation tightening up with them. We’re not quite the Cubs, where we expect bad things to happen, but 1982 is starting to feel like a very, very long time ago, and the city is growing desperate for another World Series Championship. That this was the last year in Busch would have made it all the more special. People wanted it bad.
The game is all about timing. 162 regular season games, plus playoffs. There’s a lot of ebb and flow. In the 2nd half of the season, there weren’t a lot of teams playing better baseball than Houston, including the Cardinals. Don’t forget, Houston ended up where they did coming back from 15 games under .500. You can make a solid argument that the Cardinals weren’t the better team in that series. Over the long haul, yes. At that moment, no. Play that series 10 times, maybe the Cards win 6? 4? Who knows?
The length of a baseball season is what makes it so frustrating, so numbing, and so incredible all at once. As a fan, you invest so much of your time and energy into your team, and for a sustained period of time. The same slow quality that makes games in April boring makes them incredibly tension filled in October. If Albert Pujols had taken Brad Lidge deep in June to win a game, would we even remember? Instead, that game will go down as one of the most incredible scenes I’ve ever witnessed.
Then the season’s over, and all that tension and excitement goes away.
Now it’s time to figure out what they need. Something has to be done to replace an aging outfield. Larry Walker is ending a distinguished career. Jim Edmonds is closer to the end than the beginning, as is Reggie Sanders (though I would try to resign him for another year, maybe two if the price were right). They need at least one more power arm in the rotation, and another in the pen. The core of the team is quite good, and save Edmonds, actually fairly young. Molina. Pujols. Eckstein. Mulder. Carpenter. Izzy. Rolen. All have some or many years of good baseball left. Walt Jocketty will go find some pieces in the offseason, and fill in the gaps.
But it might be time to sacrifice winning the marathon regular season to construct a team that can win the sprint of the postseason.
Fire up your hot stoves.