Once again the Cardinals lead the division at the All-Star Break against the odds. To those that follow the team it should come as no surprise. When you have quality leadership in charge of the club like Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan you always have a chance.
This brings us to the topic of conversation.....where do we go now?
The Cardinal management seems to have received the wake-up call from LaRussa and it's loyal fans. Trading for Mark DeRosa was a sign that they will at least attempt to improve the club.
Anytime you add a veteran presence with versatility like DeRosa you can't go wrong. It is always understated that chemistry leads to success. DeRosa is a character guy that's great in the clubhouse. This is critical when considering the Cardinals have played over 30 rookies at different times this year.
Young players generally perform well with less pressure, but the heat just got turned up passing the break. How will these young players perform in August and September when every game counts? Having guys like DeRosa, Pujols, and Molina will help to keep them calm.
What is different about the Cardinals? Most would say nothing, but what I notice is that their star players teach the younger players and don't criticize. Chris Carpenter is like a second pitching coach. Albert Pujols can been seen every game giving hitting tips to younger players.
The results are obvious. Five tool prospect Colby Rasmus is showing what all the hype was about. After starting the season hitting in the .230's he has raised his average to the .280's. Not only that, but he is on pace to hit over 20 home runs and drive in nearly 80 runs.
Brendan Ryan has been a defensive mastermind at shortstop after finally earning the starting job. He has also batted up and down the lineup hitting slightly over .290.
Joel Pineiro (not a young player) has thrown more complete games this year than he had in the last five years combined. This only after buying into Duncan's philosophy of throwing strikes, keeping the ball down in the zone, and trusting your defense. At the break he had a losing record at 7-9, but a great era of 3.20. With more run support in the second half look for his win-loss to trade places.
Another variable to consider is that the Cardinals have a two game lead as of today and they have done this while having starting players such as Ryan Ludwick, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Rick Ankiel, and Troy Glaus spend significant time on the disabled list.
With all these players healthy and Glaus finally on a rehab assignment this should lead to even more production. If we are going to answer the question—where do we go now—it will have to.
Albert Pujols is arguably putting together his best season to date. Many speculate that he will see an increased number of walks the second half and teams will dare the other players to beat them. Ryan Ludwick will be carrying most of this burden until Troy Glaus returns. If he returns to last years form the Cardinal faithful can rest easy, but if not this race will only get tighter.
With improved health and possibly another trade to add a better pitcher than Todd Wellemeyer theres no reason to believe that the Cardinals can't finish with the division title and a playoff berth.
The next two weeks leading up the the trade deadline will answer the question for us!