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The Cardinals are still hanging in there. The pitching has remained pretty decent to almost great and the hitting has been just good enough to win more than a few ballgames. I would have been much happier if they could have managed to put a hurting on the lowly Giants, but they took two of three from the Astros, so that will suffice. It’s at least better to play tough within your own division. The team still doesn’t seem that great on paper, but since that isn’t where the games are played, I suppose that’s just fine. I’ve been frustrated quite a lot with the managing so far this year, so I feel I should write about that this week.

I’m just going to admit it. Tony LaRussa is smarter than me about baseball.

I’m not being self deprecating, it’s just the truth. I’m not alone. He’s smarter than any fan out there about baseball. He’s smarter than any ESPN commentator. He’s smarter than any newspaper writer. Unless your name is Rogers Hornsby, Casey Stengel, or possibly Joe Torre, he’s smarter than you, too.

Don’t get the impression that I love the guy though. He’s an arrogant, drunk driving, infuriating, rat bastard of a fella, yet these things in no way affect his baseball intelligence. The guy simply wins baseball games and has for a long-assed time.

Most Cardinal fans have mixed emotions about him. He just doesn’t seem to fit the profile of a St. Louis skipper. He’s a vegetarian. He’s about as far from folksy as you can get. He doesn’t seem to have embraced the city in any way (and vice versa). No matter what the guy does, the shadow of Whitey Herzog will always loom over him in this city. His teams play good fundamental baseball, just like Card fans are supposed to love, and St. Louis couldn’t hate him more for it.

He likes to tinker with everything he can get his hands on and it simply drives people crazy. He will happily add an hour to a game just to get a better lefty/righty match up. Forget that his bullpens are usually strong. He likes to bat the pitcher 8th. Don’t mention that we score almost a third of a run more a game when he does this. He will move hot players in and out of the starting line up every goddamned day. Just don’t consider how many players have had the best years of their careers under him. After all, it’s probably all just luck. Two World Series and about 2400 victories. All from luck.

I have to begrudgingly give the guy credit. No one picked the Cardinals to be worth a piss this year. It’s been called everything from a rebuilding year to the end of a once great franchise. We’re still hanging on to second place. A large part of the credit just has to go to LaRussa.

A ton of credit also goes to his longtime companion, pitching coach Dave Duncan. He’s apparently pretty smart, too. It appears he can take any scrapheap pitcher who can throw ninety miles an hour and make him better than league average. I’m not counting Kip Wells from last year, since that run bleeder is now dead to me. Kyle Lohse and Woody Williams are pretty much his poster children.

Whatever those two guys do, as annoying as some of it is, it works. They make players better and they make teams better. They put people in situations where they have a better chance to succeed. They give old guys plenty of time off and young guys less than enough rope to hang themselves. They just win ballgames. They’re smarter than us, whether we like to admit it or not.