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Monday, August 25, 2008

The Cards Need a Winning Streak. They May Not Get One.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2008 at 12:00 PM

A nice little series win, two out of three over the weekend against a struggling Atlanta Braves team. Only thing is, it may not be enough. Not by a long shot.

The problem, of course, is that while the Cardinals were beating the Braves -- who just happen to be one of the worst teams in the league -- the Milwaukee Brewers were finishing up a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in a twelve-inning marathon.

The Cards did what you would expect from them, honestly. They took the series and failed, yet again, to sweep an opponent that was ripe for the plucking. The Cardinals are just good enough of a team to win these series, it seems, but not good enough to put together that long, sustained run of winning that would catapult them past the Brewers and into the wild card lead. They split a two-game set with the Pirates, then took two of three from Atlanta. And in the process, they fell yet another game behind the Brew Crew.

At some point, this team simply doesn't quite have the horses to stay in this thing, I don't believe. It's not that they can't continue to play well down the stretch, or that they can't continue to beat the teams they're supposed to most nights. The problem with this Cardinal team is that I just don't see an eight to twelve-game winning streak in this club. And honestly, that's what it's likely going to take for the Cards to catch either of the teams ahead of them in the Central Division this season.

Wild card teams are almost always the team that gets the hottest at just the right time in the season. Not always the best overall team, but just the one that puts a big chunk of their W's together all at once in the middle of September. Division winners are the teams that consistently beat everybody all year long; wild card teams tend to be much more mercurial, with a few flaws holding them back from sustained success. Instead, they string together victories and pull ahead of the competition, only to see it come crashing down a day or two later, as the fickle finger of momentum slides over to someone else's corner.

Maybe you see this group reeling off a nine-game winning streak, but I just don't.

If they had both a fully healthy Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in the rotation together -- and were willing to take advantage of the light schedule for much of the rest of the year -- and go with a four man rotation -- it might look a little more realistic. But even then, this is still a team that just can't seem to sustain their momentum for very long.

Tony La Russa
  • Tony La Russa

Tony La Russa
What's interesting to me is that even in this great run of success the Cardinals have had, there haven't been a ton of long winning streaks during the Tony La Russa era. The last time the Cardinals had a winning streak as long as ten games was in 2001. They actually had both a ten-game and an eleven- game streak that year.

Even the 2004 juggernaut, typically considered the true monster of the decade, had a nine-game run, but never reached double digits. Even setting aside exceptionally long streaks, the La Russa era simply isn't one that's full of extended runs. La Russa teams tend to consistently win over the long haul, but they rarely go on two-week tears of being completely unbeatable. I find myself wondering if Tony's proclivity for resting players, switching in bench players on getaway days, and putting the occasional JV lineup on the field has much of anything to do with it. Idle speculation, of course, but still interesting. Well, to me, at least.

So as we approach the month of September, I must admit to not being particularly optimistic about the Cardinals' chances of overtaking either the Cubs or the Brewers. I just don't think there's one of those miraculous winning streaks in this team, and I don't see an epic collapse coming out of either of the leaders down the stretch.

Most likely, we'll continue to see what we've seen for most of the past couple months: mostly good baseball, occasionally brilliant baseball, but with just enough losses sprinkled in here and there to keep this team from the post-season.

Sorry to be kind of a bummer this morning, but I calls 'em like I sees 'em. And I just happen to think this team is going to fall ever so slightly short.

This is a good baseball team, much better than the one I thought we would be watching this season. Unfortunately, as good as they are, I don't think they're quite good enough.

- Aaron Schafer

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