Before the season began, baseball analysts and armchair umpires alike assumed the Cardinals would be a dead team. Despite their World Series appearance in 2004 and their dismantling of the Tigers in 2006, nobody gave this team any respect.
Now the talk has shifted from the team's future to what they must do to stay in the playoff race with the trade-happy Cubs and Brewers.
The N.L. Central race is about as tight as it gets, with the top three teams separated by a mere three games. In an effort to run away with the division, the Brewers made an all-or-nothing decision to trade for CC Sabathia, who has immediately rewarded the Brew Crew with four consecutive wins.
They did not stop with Sabathia, as they moved on to trade for Ray Durham (giving Rickie Weeks some extra motivation) and sign Jay Gibbons. They have also seen Eric Gagne improve from abysmal to moderately useful.
Not to be caught sleeping, the Cubs answered back by scooping up glass man Rich Harden and reliever Chad Gaudin in an NBA-sized six-player deal. In addition, the Cubbies activated Alfonso Soriano and Scott Eyre from the most popular place in baseball this year, the DL.
With Rich Hill working out (hopefully) his problems in the minors, the Cubs look to be a strong contender for October.
And then there are the Cardinals.
They have done nothing but watch as their team continues to deteriorate. Chris Duncan has joined the All-DL team. The bullpen has suffered an epic Jason Isringhausen collapse, and I would not exactly trust my fantasy survival with the rest of the relief corps.
Of course, one could argue that Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are better additions than anyone on the market, but can the Cards afford to bet the farm on them?
Carpenter has not seen a live Major League batter in 15 months and there is no guarantee he will return to his 2004-06 form.
Thus far, the Cardinals have relied mainly (surprise, surprise) on the game-changing power of Albert Pujols. Yes, the team has enjoyed surprise contributions from Troy Glaus and Rick Ankiel, but seriously, does anyone expect Glaus to hit .290 for the season?
On the other side of the ball, the starting rotation is downright scary, and not in a good way. Kyle Lohse has been a pleasant surprise with 12 wins and a 3.35 ERA. Todd Wellemeyer started very strong, but has been steadily taking a nose-dive. The rest of rotation is made up of No. 4 starters at best.
With all this in mind, the trade deadline of July 31 is only a week away. Will the Cards, who have been quiet on the market, try and grab some insurance pitchers? Is Brian Fuentes an option for shoring up the bullpen? Will they try to shop Texas for spare parts? Could AJ Burnett or Jarrod Washburn flourish in the N.L?
All these questions must be swirling through the Cardinals' front office. The biggest question is: Will any of them happen?
Maybe Carpenter and Wainwright will help the Redbirds take the division by storm. Lately, though, it seems far more likely that they will not be able to compete in a much-improved division. Then again, who saw those patchwork Cardinals of 2006 beating Detroit?
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