|84-57 (1st place, NL Central)
74-66 (2nd place, NL Central)
)||vs.||Jake Westbrook (11-7, 4.72)
|Game 2||Yovani Gallardo (15-9, 3.68)
Kyle Lohse (12-8, 3.72)
Zack Greinke (14-5, 4.00)
Chris Carpenter (8-9, 3.92)
NH: If the Cardinals cannot mount a comeback (from what at writing is 7.5 games down) it will be the fourth time in five years that the Cardinals don't make the playoffs. This comes following a World Series win in 06 and near constant place in the NL Championship from 2000-2006. Why the drop-off?
DM: The teams just haven't been as good, unfortunately. 2007 was a classic World Series hangover squad, with a team that wasn't very good in the first place returning mostly intact. After that the Cardinals cleaned house in the front office and dumped the remaining vestiges of the "MV3" teams of 2004 and 2005, but the bullpen was awful and the NL Central happened to be excellent.
2009 and 2010 were probably the best possible versions of this current team, with a fair amount of young talent surrounding Pujols and Holliday and some great pitching staffs, but this year was doomed by Adam Wainwright's absence and Pujols's slow start; it's looking like the beginning of another rebuilding/retooling cycle.
Follow the jump for the rest
NH: I asked in May how you felt about Albert Pujols' impending free-agency and you were pretty confident he'd stay. Has your opinion changed this far into the season? Do things like his increased O-Swing % and significantly lower walk rate concern you?
DM: I still think the Cardinals and Pujols need each other, though I'm more reluctant than I was at the start of the season to throw a record-breaking contract at him.
I'm not worried about the particulars of his slump so much as its existence; as hot as he's been of late, you don't ever want to see a 31-year-old first baseman put together a year like this. It reminds me a little of Frank Thomas's decline from Ted Williams to three-true-outcomes slugger.
NH: I've occasionally wondered over to VEB's game threads and it increasingly seems that the natives are getting restless with Tony La Russa. I know the Rasmus trade really angered some people, but it seems like your readers are starting to question his everyday lineup decisions, too. Do fans want him out? Is that even a possibility? What's the future of coaching in St. Louis?
DM: His everyday moves have always been questionable, even at their best; he's got an undeniable, irrational love for untalented middle infielders and playing people out of position. The Rasmus trade was such a breaking point because La Russa appeared to use his influence to weaken the Cardinals over the long term.
Nobody knows whether he'll be back in 2012, and that's the problem—right now this is a club that appears to have no long-term plan, starting with the immediate future of its star player and manager. Whether it involves La Russa and Pujols or not, I'd like to know at some point that the Cardinals have some idea of how they'll compete in 2014.
NH: Despite the sweep, the math is still not in the Cards' favor. If the Brewers play .500 ball over the final 24 games, the Cards have to go 20-5 to force a playoff. A 12-12 month would mean the Brewers have a losing month of baseball for the first time all season. Are Cards fans still optimistic? It seemed like following the last series, your readers were pretty doom and gloom. Did the sweep change fans' minds?
DM: Optimistic isn't the right word—I think the sweep mostly allowed us to be resigned to missing the playoffs in a more pleasant way than we were before.
I don't think any of us actually expect the Cardinals to make the playoffs, but I look at it this way: It was impossible to have fun watching the Cardinals in July and August. If they can show even the capacity for enjoyable baseball down the stretch, we'll at least have something to look forward to for the rest of the month.