Talking Heads and the “Once in a Lifetime” 2011 Cardinals

by on September 29, 2011 · 0 comments

Not not those talking heads.  These Talking Heads.

“You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?'”

-David Byrne

How DID we get here?  If someone had gone into hibernation at the end of April and woke up in early September, without the convenience of having a standings sheet in front of them, the St. Louis Cardinals being in the playoffs would seem pretty elementary, would it not?

“16-10 in April.  18-8 in September.  So why is everyone freaking out that the Cardinals made the playoffs?  And why did they only wind up as the Wild Card?”

Oh, for a lack of knowledge about those months in between.

It was the pitching.  It’s always about the pitching.

This seems obvious.  It passes the eye test.  We could all see Chris Carpenter struggle less, and even dominate at times, over the last month.  We could see Kyle Lohse vastly improved after taking some extra time between starts.  Jaime Garcia was re-focused.  Derek Lilliquist has done a masterful job keeping this staff together while Dave Duncan tends to his family.

Cardinal pitchers increased their strikeout-to-walk ratio to 3.01 for September – the previous high month was June at 2.53.

Cardinal starting pitchers were 10-2 (!) in September.  Jake Westbrook took both losses.

Perhaps the most impressive improvement for the pitching staff was on the scoreboard, where it matters most.  Sporting a season average of 4.27 runs allowed per game (which was lowered by the fantastic September), the Cardinal pitchers allowed only 3.88 runs per game in September.  That’s a difference-maker in a playoff race.  The Braves went almost the opposite, from 3.73 runs allowed per game on the season to 4.26 per game in September.

Thank the Braves.

Well, sure.  But with an admittedly biased viewpoint (yet it also applies to the Rays and Red Sox), let’s also not allow ourselves to simply fall into the narrative of the Braves collapsing.  There no doubt they did, spectacularly.  But the Braves weren’t going to be chased down just by losing on their own.  The Cardinals were 18-8 in September, two games better than their 16-10 April that everyone thought was “nothing was going wrong” baseball.  Seriously, think back to how you felt or what you thought about the Cardinals in April and how well they played then – then add two wins.  They were good.

Add up the collapse and the ascent, and you get a truly fascinating graph of expected playoff odds:

(Image courtesy of Twitter pal Dave Bug, or @_)

John Mozeliak might deserve an apology from some folks.  (Maybe including myself.)

Colby Rasmus hit .173/.201/.316 after being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, including sitting out some time with injuries.

Edwin Jackson has hit .308/.321/.308 in his time with the Cardinals.  Oh, and the pitching has been pretty good too, at 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA – including not losing in September.

Octavio Dotel has been remarkably decent in bringing another strikeout-capable right arm to a bullpen that was struggling with injury loss at the time.

Yes, this still has great potential to be a bad trade long-term.  But for someone claiming to be making an “all-in” trade to win now, Mozeliak certainly accomplished his goal.

Rafael Furcal hasn’t set the world afire at the plate since coming from Los Angeles, but he stabilized a shortstop position for a time after his arrival that helped the team right itself.

Again, plenty of other factors in this improbable run to the playoffs, but I feel comfortable saying it would’ve been a much more difficult road without Jackson taking the ball every five days for the Cards.

So now what?

Well, this is where the Talking Heads interfere again.

Time isn’t holding up, time isn’t after us
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was

-David Byrne

The Cardinals don’t have time to rest on their laurels after celebrating last night.  They’ve got work to do.  It starts in Philadelphia on Saturday.

But they don’t have to look ahead to see who is winning and losing in front of them anymore.  It’s all on their platter.  Keep winning.  You need eleven more.

So in a way, here we all sit – the team and its fans – in the position we all hoped (expected?) to be in when the 2011 season started – in the playoffs.  Sure, it was a roundabout path to get there, and we’d all love to have another division title, but beggars can’t be choosers.  Their odds to win the World Series are maybe not the same as every other team – but the gap has closed.  They’re still playing.  The team is in the tournament.  Same as it ever was…

Letting the days go by
Letting the days go by
Once in a lifetime

-David Byrne

So for now, the days continue to tick off of the calendar, but the Cardinals’ season isn’t yet over, and we most certainly have seen a St. Louis baseball – hell, an MLB baseball – season that may only happen once in a lifetime.

Good luck, Redbirds.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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