Cheap Seats

Gut check time

I'm not trying to act like one of those loathsome fair weather fans. But I have about had it with the 2010 Cardinals.

It's time for them to justify our love.

Instead, they've perfected frustration. They make you want to write them off when they get humiliated on their home field by a team that's started the series 14 games out of first place and in fifth place in a crummy division. But then you look up in the standings and they're only half a game out of first. They're so inept that the general manager trades away one of the team's best and most popular players one-for-one to get a back end of the rotation starting pitcher -- when the Cardinals are in first place -- because, he says, he can't envision the team having a chance to win the division as it stood.

How did the team get to where it stood? Who put it together?

If the Cardinals have any guts at all -- and that's a big if -- they'll show up at the ballpark Wednesday looking for revenge. I expect nothing less from the Cardinals than their best game of the year. There's no excuse for anything less. They need to get off the mat and make some sort of declaration about what they're made of. And, with a day off Thursday, there's no reason they can't clear the decks and throw everything they've got at the Astros.

Some will say that it's not the Cardinals fault they lost the first two games of the Houston series. After all, the Astros have won seven games in a row. So what? First, I'm tired of excuses. If this is a championship quality club, it should be able to compete with any team, any time. Second, the Astros lost their best hitter and their best starting pitcher before the series started in a trade deadline fire sale. They're in rebuilding mode, for crying out loud.

The shoddy defense has got to stop. I don't care if the Cardinals release someone or demote them to make an example out of them. There's no reason why players at the major league level shouldn't be able to make the routine plays.

While they looked pretty good on paper, the Redbirds have proved that paper doesn't win ballgames. They took far too many risks when this team was built. It had a rookie at third base, a rookie in centerfield and unestablished players at second base and shortstop. Skip Schumaker is a pretty nice extra outfielder. But he's a miserable second baseman. I call him Superman for his uncanny ability to dive over the top of grounders time and time again in a single bound. Brendan Ryan will always be under the microscope in St. Louis because manager Tony La Russa doesn't seem to care for him much. Before he was forced to be the starting shortstop last season by default, he was up and down more times than the horses on the carousel at the state fair.

The rotation was going to include either a rookie or another bullpen project when it emerged from spring training, and that's ok if the other four guys are reliable. But they weren't. Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse will have question marks attached to their names for the rest of their careers. But, what do the Cardinals do with three squishy starters? They go out and sign Brad Penny, a guy who has pitched 200 innings TWICE in his 11-year career... Is it any surprise two out of the four question marks didn't pan out? The bigger surprise is that the rookie, Jaime Garcia, has pitched so incredibly well. If not for Garcia's contributions, the Birds would be buried in the standings.

In retrospect, maybe the team didn't look so good on paper beyond the batting averages and home run totals. The Cardinals used to pride themselves on good defense -- especially up the middle -- but they sold their soul in the name of cutting corners. When the trade deadline neared we were all dazzled with talk of making a deal for Roy Holliday AND a starting middle infielder to improve the offense and the defense. In the end, the Redbirds made a minimal move. They swapped a player from a position of weakness (the offense) to fill another position of weakness (the rotation) and in the end invested no additional money in the product on the field.

Around Busch Stadium no one uses terms like "dry powder" anymore. But, once again, we were told the budget was going be kept in check so the team would have resources to make a move at the trade deadline. And it didn't fire the bullets it had.

I get so tired of hearing about how the Cardinals can't afford to pay Albert Pujols. The club has the 13th highest payroll in the major leagues but the fourth highest attendance.  The Cubs have a $146.9 million payroll while the Cardinals have a $93 million payroll while St. Louis averages 1,800 more tickets sold per game. Now I know that more goes into major league revenue than attendance, but I find it hard to believe the Cardinals can't do better than spending 2/3 of what the Cubs spend. I think a $110-120 million payroll isn't out of the realm of reasonability.

Once again, it seems like the Cardinals are more than willing to just hang around and hope they get lucky that trying to go all out to win.

I'm not writing off 2010. But I am calling on management to build a Cardinals type of team in 2011. One with solid, fundamentally strong players who know how to play the game the way it is meant to be played. Not a bunch of outfielders playing middle infield spots or retread 5-foot-tall guys who have been dumped by three other teams in the last 12 months taking up roster spots.

And for crying out loud, sign Pujols and get it overwith? What are you waiting for?

Sorry about the rambling. I don't know if it made anyone else feel any better. But it sure helped me. Now where's that Tylenol?