Just in August, things looked bleak for the Cardinals. And I'm not just writing about how they were over ten games out of a playoff spot at one point. They were down in the standings, yes, but they weren't just looking at a wait-'til-next-year bump in the road. This was a team built for 2011. Considering how many contractual loose ends they had, anything beyond that was dicey. To put it in terms of Lost, they had the polar bears in the jungle and spooky French transmissions, but the future could bring some crap about being dead without knowing it. That, and losing a bunch of games to the Pirates.
Things turned around with the standings, and the team tied up a couple of those loose ends, re-signing Lance Berkman and Chris Carpenter. But there's still a win-now urgency to the Cardinals, almost exclusively because of the Albert Pujols situation. The Cards' reversal of fortune and NL pennant have made this season an unqualified success, regardless of what happens in the remaining game(s), but without Pujols, this might be as close as the Cardinals get to a championship for a long, long time.
Which means the spotlight, both short- and long-term, is on Matt Holliday.
He's part of the Cardinals' magnificent offense, which lapped the rest of the National League. But he's also a slumping, ailing hitter. He missed NLDS games with a hand injury, and after going nuts against Milwaukee pitching in the NLCS, he's 3-for-18 in the World Series. With three intentional walks of Albert Pujols in Game 5, Ron Washington has already announced that he has no problems challenging Holliday to beat him. Pujols won't get a lot of chances. That's Holliday in the short term.
And his contract might be the biggest obstacle to a Pujols deal. He has $86 million left over the next five years, and just about any non-Yankee team has to be wary about committing $300 million to two 30-somethings over the next decade, regardless of how good they are. And as good as Holliday has been, he's also been dinged up this year. Let's have FOX explain just how:
Thanks. Apparently Matt Holliday is some pantsless bird-man with oversized feet and black Tic-Tacs glued to him. This doesn't bode well for his future. And obviously the appendectomy and the moth in the ear were flukes, but it's more than a little troublesome that he came up with back, leg, and hand ailments in the same season. He's making franchise-player money on a team that needs to commit extra-super-franchise-player money to another player. That's Holliday in the long term.
These narratives never play out quite like you'd expect -- if history is any guide, this World Series will come down to a Nick Punto/Darren Oliver match-up, or something equally as unlikely. But if you had to choose a player who needed to get going in the near future for the Cardinals to win the World Series, it would be Holliday. Ron Washington won't give Pujols the chance. There should be runners on base when Holliday hits.
And if you had to choose a player who needs to stay going in the distant future for the Cardinals to win another World Series, it would be Holliday. Other, richer teams might not give Pujols that chance.
It's all Holliday, all the time for Cardinals fans, and it's worth noting that the team wouldn't be here without him. Exactly where "here" is will have a lot to do with how he plays. That's true for the next two games. That's true for the next five years.