Personally, I don’t care if the St. Louis Cardinals are 4.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs for the NL Central division lead. At this point, the most important number for the Redbirds is 1.5, the amount of games that the Cardinals are leading Milwaukee for the NL Wild Card.
If it sounds like I’m here to concede the NL Central title to the Cubs, you have my point absolutely wrong. I have the utmost confidence in Hall-of-Fame manager Tony La Russa to continue our unexpected quality of play.
Somehow, with the help of mastermind pitching coach Dave Duncan, the Cardinals rotation has been quite formidable this year. That is truly an accomplishment, after it was originally thought that the Redbirds would have a mediocre rotation at best.
Starters such as Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer are having career-changing seasons under Duncan’s tutelage. Both are receiving serious consideration for the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, an event that normally only first baseman Albert Pujols is guaranteed to be a part of.
At 44-33, the Cardinals are in second place in the NL Central, but the Brewers are creeping closer by the day. This is perhaps the most worrying part of the season as far as a Cardinals fan is concerned.
The Brewers, led by sluggers Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, have finally found their stride. The team that was picked almost unanimously to finish second to the Cubs in the division is just 1.5 games behind the ‘Birds after a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves tonight.
Am I worried? It would certainly sound like it from the last paragraph, wouldn’t it? But to be honest, I think the Cardinals have what it takes, not only offensively and defensively, but in the bullpen as well. Outside of perhaps my least favorite player on the club right now, Mike Parisi, the bullpen is looking quite strong under the circumstances.
There are more Opening Day minor league arms active in the pen than there are major leaguers. My favorite, and perhaps the most reliable out of the entire bunch, is Kyle McClellan. Sure, he looked shaky in a couple of appearances, but his overall body of work has been outstanding.
I have also started to rethink my position on “closer” Ryan Franklin. Although Jason Isringhausen has taken over that position for now, Franklin did an alright job as the closer, and that’s being generous.
It was pretty frustrating to see Franklin give up hits and have it not mean anything, especially because St. Louis media outlets shared knowledge that Franklin thought of his late game appearances and merely the seventh inning, due to his longtime set-up man tag.
In brighter news, the offense has been blazing this season for the Cardinals. I don’t think anyone expected this kind of production from outfielder Ryan Ludwick. He has put up some of the most impressive outfield numbers in the NL, and should be getting some votes for the Midsummer Classic. Another outfielder who has perhaps been flying under the radar is Skip Schumaker. Skip has the most walk-offs on the team this year, and has been batting over .300.
It may sound like a stretch, but the unsung hero of this ballclub has been Aaron Miles. Sure he has been a platoon player, but after a 5-6 day in Boston, he is hitting .313, and his defensive skills have looked sharper by the game.
Hopefully, all this considered, the Cardinals will parlay an amazing managing job by La Russa into a NL Wild Card berth!