This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But with the Cardinals suddenly ten games over .500, and a wild card spot if the season ended today, the Redbirds have some sort of semblance of a legitimate team. However, this is no time to celebrate.
Sure, it's only mid-July, but the Cardinals are already feeling the pressure of keeping up. Trailing the All-Star Cubs by 3.5 games, and sensing the new Sabathia-led Brewers looming just behind, every game becomes more important and leaves the Cardinals bullpen more worn out.
Enter Mark Mulder. Arguably the most frustrating story for the Cards in the decade, he has won a total of six games in the last three seasons, accumulating nearly $20 million. But that can all be forgiven if he turns it around this season. His start comes at a critical time. Between the wait for Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter to came back, and Wellemeyer's recent collapse, the Cards need someone who can compliment Kyle Lohse.
Anyone who follows the Cardinals knows what pitching coach Dave Duncan can do when he works his magic. Lohse (10-2), a sub .500 pitcher before St. Louis, has become absolutely stellar for the rotation. Before his injury, journeyman Todd Wellemeyer was solid as well. And who can forget the ragtag staff that won the 2006 World Series?
So what does Mulder need to bring? Six to seven solid innings a game. The bullpen is exhausted from having to clean up after Boggs' and Wellemeyer's implosions, and the rotation has taken a heavy beating from the injury bug. As long as Mulder can make some quality starts, the bullpen can finally get a chance to breathe.
The real question is: Can Mulder deliver? GM John Mozeliak seems to think so."I think he's ready," said Mozeliak. "Not only what we've seen but just what he's telling us and how he feels has been something of a benchmark."
Whether this is a move of urgency to find a quality starter, or in fact Mulder is ready to go, we will find out in the next month. Regardless of Mulder's readiness, the time is right to see how he will perform.
After his start Wednesday, Mulder and the Cardinals will have over a week to evaluate the outing, thanks to the All-Star game. And there won't even be any coaching distractions this year.
If fans can remember all the way back to '05, they can recall a 16-8 Mulder, including a 2.45 ERA in the postseason. If there are even flashes of that this season, there is hope that the Cards can continue their winning ways and stay ahead of the Brew Crew.
Mulder doesn't have the easiest first assignment, drawing the Phillies, who have scored the second most runs in the NL. However, once the All-Star break is over, the Cards face the lowly Padres who should be much easier.
Mark Mulder doesn't have to carry the pitching staff on his shoulders for the next month. All he needs to do is keep it alive until Wainwright and Carpenter get back.