The Importance of Ryan Ludwick

Eric HobbsCorrespondent IJuly 11, 2009

Is it a coincidence that just as Ryan Ludwick went down with an injury at Pittsburgh, the Cardinal offense began to struggle?

Is it a chance happening that while Ludwick struggled once coming off the disabled list, the Cardinal bats were quiet?

Finally, is it pure luck that as soon as Ludwick began to find his stroke, the Cardinals finally began to churn out runs again?

The correct answer is a resounding 'no', it's not luck. Ryan Ludwick is vital to the Cardinal lineup, in some ways perhaps more than Albert Pujols. Teams simply can walk Albert, but for much of this season, there hasn't been a cleanup batter to make the opposing team pay.

In the past ten games, Ludwick has found his groove, raising his batting average 18 points, up to .251. In those 10 games, the Cards are 7-3 while scoring 5.1 runs per game. Scoring five runs a game should wins you a lot of ballgames, especially when you have perhaps the best pitching staff in the National League.

Not only is the Cardinal offense better because of his bat, but his re-emergence puts his bat in the lineup every day while taking Rick Ankiel or Chris Duncan's bat out of the lineup. Both have been liabilities at the plate, consistently striking out and popping up pitches in key situations.

Ludwick and Colby Rasmus have earned the right to play every day. That leaves one spot, which could be occupied by Mark DeRosa once he returns from the DL. That would leave Duncan and Ankiel on the bench, and possibly as trade bait to pick up another piece to the puzzle, perhaps a right-handed bat.

The bottom line is that Ryan Ludwick as a productive hitter makes all the difference for the Cardinals, who lead the NL Central by three games. His bat protects Pujols, but it also keeps struggling bats out of the lineup. If Ludwick can maintain his solid hitting, the Cardinals should be able to hang on and claim the NL Central division title.