The Cards ran into one of these over the weekend. There were no survivors.
It was, to put it lightly, a bad weekend to be a Cardinals fan. The Redbirds headed into Milwaukee up 2.5 games in the divisional race after taking 2 of 3 from the Astros. Three days later, the Cards limped out of Miller Park in second place, having been swept by the red-hot Brewers. They have an off day today to lick their collective wounds, while the rest of us are left to contemplate what the sweep might have to say about this team.
Of course, it's much too early in the season to start drawing hard conclusions about what the Cards' ultimate fate may be; there are, after all, still almost a hundred games left in the 2011 season. Something tells me the remaining 95 games on the schedule will have an impact on the standings, one way or the other.
Still, after watching the Cards falter so badly against the team trying to run them down for the division lead, one can't help but feel like a little bit of stock-taking is in order.
There is one thing I can tell you about this team, and I can say it without equivocation: This is a team badly in need of some good luck. The injuries are beginning to pile up in a major way, and if nothing else, we can safely say the 2011 Cardinals are not good enough to contend for a championship with half the team on the disabled list.
Of course, some of the vagaries the Cardinals are currently experiencing are to be expected with an older club. When you have a late-30s Chris Carpenter and the reanimated corpse of Lance Berkman on your team, you have to expect a few injuries here and there.
(Sorry about that. I can never resist a chance to get a Pulp video in.)
What's odd, though, is that it isn't the old guys who are getting hurt. Matt Holliday is within his prime years. Allen Craig is firmly entrenched in the halcyon days of his twenties. David Freese is a young player as well. Okay, bad example. David Freese may be relatively young, but he has glass bones and paper skin. Point taken.
Still, it's fair to say the team we saw over the weekend against the Brewers was not exactly the 2011 Cardinals at their very best. It's no wonder, really, the offense looked so anemic when you consider how much talent is currently sitting on the disabled list. The Brewers are also, as much as I hate to say it, just a more talented team, especially on the pitching side. The Cardinals have one great pitcher in Jaime Garcia, a couple of good pitchers in Carpenter and Kyle Lohse, and a couple question marks. Milwaukee has three legitimate top of the rotation arms the Cards just can't match.
On the other hand, I'm beginning to wonder if this is a team capable of playing with really good competition on a consistent basis. The Cardinals have absolutely cleaned up on the scrubs of the National League this season, with a 14-4 combined record against the Cubs, Astros, and Dodgers. It's an encouraging change of pace from last season, when the Cards continually played well against good competition but went all origami for every 90-loss team that rolled into town. Unfortunately, beating up on the bad opponents seems to have forced the Cards into a bizarro 2010 mode, and their record against good teams has suffered accordingly.
The Redbirds are 2-4 against Cincinnati, 2-3 against the Brewers (and have been outscored 18 to 12 for the season so far), and a miserable 2-5 against the Giants. All of this has created a team whose record looks exceptionally good, but watching them roll over against the two teams in the NL Central dogfight against the Cards makes it very hard to believe they're really as good as that record states they should be.
Still, it's possible this is all just a small sample issue, and in a month this sweep looks just as far and wee as the last time the Cards were swept by one of their division rivals on the road. After all, the Cardinals still have one of the best records in all of baseball despite Albert Pujols having the most miserable season of his career by far, Chris Carpenter having exactly one win, Ryan Franklin having fallen from closing to not being trusted with a five run lead, and continually fielding one of the worst middle lineups in all of baseball. Given that backdrop, it's hard to believe the Cardinals are in even remotely as good a shape as they currently are.
It's entirely possible the bad feelings left over from watching the Brewers trounce the Cardinals will fade relatively quickly. After all, the Reds swept the Cards right out of town last month, and since then have dropped like a stone in the standings. But watching this series just past, I couldn't help but shake the feeling there was something more to it, and I was seeing the Cardinals exposed for all the things they don't have. Maybe they just didn't have it because it was sitting on the DL.
Or, maybe this team really is in trouble, and this weekend was just the first cloud on the horizon.