What a weird week for the Cardinals. Despite winning only three of their last eight games, the Birds actually gained ground on the Milwaukee Brewers (who are threatening the Wild-Card leaders), and the division-leading Cubs.
Albert Pujols: What a difference El Hombre makes. He went four for four in his debut back from his calf injury, and has actually raised his average since being back. On Sunday, he hit his 17th home run, and he'll make his debut back in the field this week at Busch.
Spot Starts: Mitchell Boggs gave the Birds a great start on Saturday, pitching over six innings and giving up just one run. He's 3-0 in four big league starts.
Also, Todd Wellemeyer made a successful comeback, pitching five scoreless innings. If he can be a solid starter, not even be as good as he was earlier this season, he'll be a great asset to the pitching rotation.
Rick Ankiel: After breaking down his swing with hitting coach Mitchell Page, it appears that he's re-found his power stroke. This week, he raised his average 10 points, hit three homers, and had six RBI. Over a full season, he projects to hit 30 HR.
Bullpen: Lost another two games this week, and now has more losses than the starting rotation. Yes, the offense has been inconsistent, but the bullpen could provide more support.
I don't know if La Russa is using them improperly, or most of its members are fatigued, but the team needs to straighten out this problem ASAP.
Ryan Ludwick: Everybody knew that he wouldn't hit at a .330 clip the whole year, but he has been really bad lately. His average is now down .290, and has one RBI since June 15.
This is the first time he has hit a slump this year, so we'll see how he responds and if he can change his approach at the dish. Players like Ankiel, Skip Schumaker, and Brian Barton have had ups-and-downs and have managed to return to form. Hopefully he can do the same.
Mike Parisi: Finally got sent down to AAA with an ERA over eight and a total blow to his confidence. I really don't agree with the way that La Russa handled him. There's no reason for Parisi to be pitching at the end of a game. It just shouldn't happen.
Jason Isringhausen: I don't know if he's a lights out closer again, but he definitely is now a respectable pitcher again. He allowed his first run this week, but has also lowered his ERA to 5.74 (from the 8.00 it was when he went on the DL).
Mark Mulder: Although he was activated this week, he wasn't used, despite the Cards having a five-run lead. I don't understand that move either.
When is a better time to give him a shot then against the Royals than with a five-run lead? I'd rather have him pitch in Kansas City than against the Mets and the Cubs, who have much more powerful offenses.
Tony La Russa: He's getting the most out of his team, yet I feel like he's misused the bullpen in the last week. Nonetheless, I wouldn't have anybody else.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This is a huge week for the Cardinals. They play seven straight at home against the Mets and Cubs. With the Cubs slumping (they've lost five of their last six), now is the perfect time to make a move in the NL Central.
Mulder should have made his debut against the Royals (in my opinion), but he wasn't activated to sit in the 'pen. He'll definitely pitch this week, and it should be interesting.
ALSO, wait and see if Izzy returns to the closer role, or if Ryan Franklin stays at the spot. With Isringhausen pitching well, and Franklin blowing another save against Detroit, the move might be tempting.