By Jake McCormick
They finished the last month of the MLB season with a .500 record, after a torrid August with a single digit loss count. The NL Central runaway champion entered the National League Divisional Series against a balanced Los Angeles Dodger team, only to get embarrassingly, and perhaps predictably, swept on the West Coast.
The fate of the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals is to the 2008 Chicago Cubs as the Monica Lewinski scandal was to Wag the Dog; the latter foreshadowed events in the former. Of course, I don’t mean that Bill Clinton hired a Robert DeNiro and whacked Dustin Hoffman because Bill supposedly stained a dress. Obviously the movie situation led to a conspiracy only Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would believe. But the 2009 Cardinal team that Vegas picked as the favorite to go to the World Series had their season end ironically similar to Vegas’ National League baby last year, the Chicago Cubs.
Shotty defense in the second game of the NLDS also binds these two talented rosters. The Dodgers got help from four errors, one by each Cub infielder in 2008, and now have Matt Holliday to thank for all but guaranteeing a repeat trip to the National League Divisional Series. There’s nothing like watching a real life Homer Simpson “D’oh!”, right? I would be quick to point out the ex-Cub Factor, but Mark DeRosa hit .333 with a two run home run in the postseason as a Cardinal and has a lifetime playoff BA of .353. Plus, Juan Pierre evens out the ratio as a Dodger.
That’s the beauty of playoff baseball and its ability to force all in bets with their regular season successes. The Cardinals easily made the best free agent moves out of any National League team, but like the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis saw no hardware returned for their midseason investments. Instead, they have a banner and a premiere free agent they may not be able to sign.
Much like the 2009 Brewers and Cubs, the Cardinals face some issues from top to bottom in their organization. Joining Holliday in the open waters are the Other Guy (Joel Pineiro), Gandalf the White (John Smoltz), Ivan Drago (Rick Ankiel) and the ex-Cub (DeRosa). Batman and Robin, or the Emperor and Darth Vader if you have a predisposition to Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan, also have free agent contracts. Duncan has already hinted at looking elsewhere, and La Russa is strutting around his Los Angeles hotel room in his stretch pants, muttering something about weighing his options for 2010. But do these issues make them worse off for 2010 like their NL Central counterparts were for 2009?
The Cardinals still have the Terminator, who’s movie name had a sequel eclipse the original in quality. After hitting .300 with three walks and one postseason RBI, respectable for any other normal player, Albert Pujols went 89 at-bats without a home run. Rest assured the best player on the planet will be going on a spirit journey adventure this offseason. The team still has a 1-2 lights out punch with Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, although Wainwright topped out in the National League in innings pitched. St. Louis also does have a little money to work with, and still has a stable back of the bullpen with Ryan Franklin and Trevor Miller signed for two more years.
Focusing on next season is all Cardinal fans can do at this point, joining the rest of the NL Central Division only a few days late to the lame after party. Good thing they can talk about shouldabeens of playoffs past until free agency and trading blocks open.
(By the way, a sentence in the first paragraph at the top is the difference between the 2008 Cubs and 2009 Cardinals. If you spotted it before getting this far, you must really like baseball, or really hate one of those two teams.)Follow paulmbanks