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The incredible fading Cardinals

The Cardinals used to be the team that poured it on down the stretch. This franchise is known for historic comeback finishes like in 1964 when it chased down the Phillies on the last day of the season.

But, with the team floundering in second place in the National League Central, I don't see any reason to believe it will stop its disturbing recent trend of coming out of the gate quickly then inexplicably sinking to the middle of the pack.

Since starting the season with a .652 winning percentage in April, 15-8, the Cardinals have proved to be a .500 team. They're 29-29, losing games they should win and failing to come through when they have a chance to seize control of the division lead.

How can Cardinals veteran squads with deep pitching and a fearsome batting order -- at least on paper -- be so ill prepared for the heat of meaningful battles? This isn't just something that has happened this season. Four the last five years the Birds seem to do nothing but get worse as the season wears on. A team known for scrappy play and never giving up know has cast its image as a chronic under-achiever.

Even during the 2006 champion season, the Cardinals backed into the play-offs. They were 34-19 after May, then had a losing record in three of the remaining four months of the season: 15-11 in July but 9-16 in June, 13-15 in August and 12-16 in September. They had one game in October, which I don't really count because of the unfair sample size. But if they would have won it, we wouldn't have had to do the Tomahawk Chop in the stands at Busch as we prayed the Braves would beat the Astros and prevent the need for a one-game play-off it seemed the Redbirds would have no chance to win...

In 2008, the Cardinals were 48-36 through June. After July 1, they were 38-40.

In 2009, the Birds were 16-7 in April, then they sagged to 13-14 in May and 12-17 in June. They picked it back up in July with a 16-11 mark and were hot in August with a 20-6 record. But in Septembr they were only 13-13 and in October they were 1-3 before going 0-3 in the post-season.

What gives with the Cardinals getting worse as the season goes on? Isn't that the opposite of what one would expect from a supposed championship quality team?