Royally Beaten: Cardinals Try to Avoid Sweep by Royals Today

Citizens of St. Louis, the Cardinals need your help.

You see, due to a little known bylaw of Major League Baseball, if you get swept by the Kansas City Royals, you're out of the league.

This unfortunate fate has befallen several teams over the years, few of whom you probably remember. Teams such as the Oklahoma City Tornadoes, the Jacksonville Gigolos, and the Newark Murderers have all been kicked out of MLB over the years and had their records expunged. The last chance the Cardinals have of not suffering a similar fate is today at 1:15 p.m. at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals have now lost four series this year. One each to the Giants, Brewers, Pirates and now the to Royals, after going down in a 3-2 loss last night against the cross-state ''rivals.'' The Brewers are at least a respectable team, though not anywhere near as good as we all thought they would be before the season. The other three, not so much.

What, if anything, does this tell us about this team? Personally, I can't decide if it's relevant or not. Still, it seems odd that the Cardinals have taken the series from the Rays, one of the best teams in the AL, and lost to the Royals, one of the worst.

The Cards have also beat the Cubs, the team they currently find themselves chasing, but lost to the Giants, who couldn't score if they were on a date with both Spears sisters.

Is this a team that plays to the level of their opposition? As of this morning, the four teams that have beaten the Cardinals in series this year are a combined 133-155, for a winning percentage of .461.

Only the Brewers are currently above .500, at 38-33. Not one of the teams has had a record better than the Cardinals either at the time of the series or now. I don't know if that's the answer or not. Maybe the Cardinals have just run into some good pitching. After all, the Giants do have a couple of guys at the top of their rotation that aren't too very bad named Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. The Royals, too, may be a little weak on the offensive side of things, but their pitchers are pretty talented.

Then again, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The Pirates have a nice offense this year, but one of the worst pitching staffs in the entire game. The Brewers do have Ben Sheets, but the Cards have missed him for the most part this season, including in the series they lost.

Did the Cardinals just happen to run into these teams when they were especially hot? It doesn't really look that way, either. The Giants went 5-5 in the ten games before their winning series against the Cards, and 5-5 immediately after. Of course, for a team that's eleven games below .500, that sort of qualifies as a hot streak, I suppose. It definitely doesn't look like the Brewers were hot when they beat the Cardinals; Milwaukee went 2-8 in the games leading up to the series, and 3-7 in the following 10 contests. The Pirates did come in on a hot streak; they went 7-3 before, but only 4-6 after their series victory. And the Royals? 5-5, but they did just beat a very good Diamondbacks team two of three. Still, it doesn't appear as if the Cardinals have just caught all of their opponents when they're hot.

So, then, is there a reason? Or is it just random variation? Unfortunately, I don't really know. The only common thread in all of the series the Cardinals have lost this year has, in fact, been the bullpen.

Each time the Cardinals have lost a series, it has been due largely to problems with the relief corps. So far in this series, we've seen Ron Villone and Kyle McClellan have problems with the gopher ball. The Milwaukee series, the only four game set the Cards have lost, we saw Jason Isringhausen come almost completely apart. The Pirates won largely on the strength of late inning heroics, as well.

A lot has been made this year, by myself as well as plenty of others, of the Cardinals' offensive struggles. But in reality, this team has thus far lived and died by their pitching. The starters have done their jobs, night in and night out. The bullpen, unfortunately, has not been quite as consistent. At times, we've seen solid relief work, mostly from the young turks. At other times, we've seen disasters, with relievers unable to get out of jams, unable to get the big strikeout, just flat out unable to throw strikes.

You want the story of this Cardinal team's season? It's right there in the bullpen, for better and for worse. When the pen has held up, the Cardinals have won. When it hasn't, well, we've seen quite clearly what happens then the last two nights.

We may see, yet again, the bullpen end up defining how the game goes today. Brad Thompson is making the start, after Anthony Reyes had to be disabled with elbow inflammation. Personally, I don't see Thompson being effective. Maybe he proves me wrong, but I doubt it. Thus, I think the bullpen may end up playing a big role in the game. We had better all hope they have a good game. It certainly would suck to see the Cardinals forced to disband, after all.

- Aaron Schafer

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