It’s no secret that the St. Louis Cardinals’ bats have been ice-cold lately.
Stellar pitching has kept them on the heels of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central standings, but with recent injuries to both the pitching staff and lineup, they will most certainly need to find a more balanced attack to win on a consistent basis.
They may be getting the timing right, though, with an eight-game homestand starting tonight. 2008 All-Star outfielder Ryan Ludwick will be taking the night off after testing out his body in the San Francisco series.
I, for one, am not a proponent of continually putting struggling hitters before and after slugger Albert Pujols, but left-handed big bopper Chris Duncan will try his best to provide protection tonight while Ludwick watches on.
It certainly beats outfielder Rick Ankiel, who has had several abysmal plate appearances since coming off of the DL last week. The former pitcher is looking much more like a “one," rather than a “two through nine” at the plate if you’re catching my drift.
After turning scorching hot in the San Francisco series, Pujols has raised his batting average to .339, with no apparent signs of cooling down. It’ll be a test to see how he holds up without Ludwick as protection in the lineup tonight.
Here’s what I’m looking for right now though, not only out of this series, but for the foreseeable future: infielder Joe Thurston to see his playing time decreased, which quite frankly is for the good of the team. I think he’s a liability defensively. Sure, he’ll have his fair share of decent stops, but so does Brian Barden.
Furthermore, though, Thurston allows himself far too much leisure when throwing to Pujols on a groundout, and often puts Pujols in precarious situations. The rest of the infield defense seems to be shored up though.
People can rant all they want about Skip Schumaker at second base, but for his first year at the position, he’s more than serviceable and his bat is far too valuable to leave him out of the lineup, in my opinion.
Pujols may very well be the best defensive player on the infield, but Brendan Ryan is giving him a strong run for his money. His combination of athleticism, smarts, and speed allow him to make plays that Khalil Greene could have made…four years ago.
Mark my words. As of June 1, 2009, this team will be in contention for the NL Central crown in the last week of the season. Every team fights through tough times. The Chicago Cubs have made almost as many DL stints this year as JD Drew in his career; the Reds are suffering without phenom Joey Votto in the lineup, and the Cardinals have the aforementioned troubles with various injuries.
You might be reading this and thinking, “Wow! The Cardinals need a lot." While that may seem true, I must remind you that virtually this same exact ballclub got off to an incredible start in April behind strong bats and equally strong pitching.
If the Cardinals can revert back to their April days, I have the utmost confidence that they will win the division and contend for a World Series berth once October hits.
However, if the lineup stalls and the Cardinals’ hurlers decide to visit Phoenix sparking a drought, something not yet seen this year, the Cardinals will be fighting with the Cincinnati Reds for third place in the division, spending yet another playoff season on vacation.