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What's next for the Cardinals?

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - No series surprised me more in the first round than the Los Angeles Dodgers' dismantling of the St. Louis Cardinals in three games.

Not that I didn't think the Dodgers were any good, they won 95 games, but since about the middle of August I just felt that the Cardinals would be the team to come out of the National League.

So where do the Cardinals go from here?

They still have Albert Pujols, who is a lock to nab his second straight MVP Award, while either Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright will likely take home NL Cy Young Award honors.

So, things aren't as bleak as some would have you believe. But, if you think NLDS goat Matt Holliday is the only free agent general manager John Mozeliak has to deal with this winter, think again.

Manager Tony La Russa is without a contract for the 2010 season and some people believe that the four-time Manager of the Year had already made the decision to take his considerable skills elsewhere, regardless of how this year turned out.


Tony La Russa is without a contract for the 2010 season.
La Russa was always a Walt Jocketty guy, going back to the days when both were in Oakland. When Jocketty left in 2007 you heard the whispers that La Russa's time in St. Louis was probably coming to a close. When the New York Yankees fired manager Joe Torre, La Russa's name was linked to the job.

Nothing came of the Yankee speculation and La Russa surprisingly signed a two-year extension.

The straw that may have broke the camel's back, though, came this summer when Chris Duncan was dealt away to Boston for shortstop Julio Lugo. Of course, Duncan was not going to determine the Cards' fate this year, but he was the son of La Russa's pitching coach and consigliere Dave Duncan.

Duncan was apparently so miffed at that move that no matter what La Russa ultimately decides, he is gone.

Either way, maybe it is just time for La Russa to move on. I compare it to Torre's situation with the Yankees a few years back. Sure he hasn't really done anything to lose his job, but 14 years is a long time.

Maybe it is just time for a change for both sides.

Since La Russa took over as manager in St. Louis in 1996, the other five NL Central teams have had 24 full-time managers and 10 interims. That is almost incredible.

I doubt Mozeliak would just come out and say that the Cardinals are going to go in a different direction. But, maybe he should. I suspect a decision one way or the other will come sooner rather than later.

St. Louis is a team that is ready to win now. I doubt they would go down the untested skipper route should La Russa leave. I am guessing they go retread (cough...Bobby Valentine...cough).

Speaking of Holliday, if I am the Cardinals I am either getting a big hometown discount from him, or I am just letting him walk. If they are planning on shelling out big bucks for him, they should save it and give it to Jason Bay.

Who knows how that series would have turned out had he not dropped the ball? I do know that I would have liked my chances a whole lot more heading back home tied, 1-1, than down, 2-0.

Holliday was just awful this series. Forget the series-changing drop in Game 2 for a second, he is also the guy who left the bat on his shoulder with two strikes and the bases loaded in Game 1, before going 0-for-4 in Saturday's finale.

Not exactly the lasting impression you want as you get ready to test free agency for the first time in your career.

PAPELBON DONE IN BOSTON?

While I feel fairly certain in saying that Holliday cost the St. Louis Cardinals their NLDS series, I don't think it's fair to hang the goat label on Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who imploded on Sunday, as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim completed a three-game sweep of Boston in their ALDS matchup.

Boston had an uphill battle anyway, not to mention the runs were the first Papelbon had ever allowed in the postseason. Geez, cut the guy some slack. Even Mariano Rivera blew a few playoff games.

No matter what would have happened for the Red Sox here this postseason, Papelbon was going to be the guy I pegged as the most surprising name you will hear at the Winter Meetings in December.

Boston believes hard-throwing righty Daniel Bard is a closer in waiting. The Red Sox want to get younger in their lineup and a messy contract situation with Papelbon is on the horizon.

Don't be shocked if he is shopped for a young bat this winter. Crazy prediction here. He goes to Texas for first base prospect Justin Smoak and the Rangers turn Papelbon back into a starter.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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