So far this season, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds have been engaged in a dogfight among the top of the National League Central. With St. Louis recently solidifying their starting rotation, that may be about to change.
St. Louis pulled off a three-team deal with the San Diego Padres and Cleveland Indians, acquiring Indians starter Jake Westbrook while shipping right fielder Ryan Ludwick to San Diego. Meanwhile, the Reds, who have been in need of bullpen help all season, made no moves leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
"There were a couple yesterday that we had been working on for a while that fell apart at the end," Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty said after the 4:00 PM EST deadline had passed. "The players we were pursuing were not traded. They probably were not real serious."
So, while quality arms like Octavio Dotel, Kyle Farnsworth, Kerry Wood, and Chad Qualls will all wear new uniforms in the coming days, none of them will suit up in Cin City.
Instead, the Reds look to build from within, with Russ Springer, former Cardinal Jason Isringhausen, and young Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman waiting in the minor leagues.
Meanwhile, St. Louis has bolstered their starting rotation with a quality fourth starter in Jake Westbrook. Ryan Ludwick, who was batting .281/.343/.484 with 11 home runs, 43 RBI, and 44 runs scored in 77 games, was sent to the NL West-leading Padres. St. Louis also receives Padres left-handed prospect Nick Greenwood and an undisclosed amount of cash from Cleveland.
"I think they gave up a pretty good hitter to get him," Jocketty said of the Westbrook-
Ludwick deal. "Offense has been one of their struggles of late. He's a good addition for them but they also lost a very good offensive player."
But although they traded Ludwick, the Cardinals are faithful that rookie Jon Jay, who has batted .396 and slugged .604 while filling in for an injured Ludwick, can fill the void admirably.
The 21-year-old has impressed the Cardinals organization, obviously enough to turn the reins over to him in right field, where he started Saturday's game against the Pirates. He also plays a good center field, although that position is currently held by Colby Rasmus. He is fourth among NL center fielders in Total Zone Runs this year.
"In fairness, our offense was inconsistent with him," Cards GM John Mozeliak said. "Will it be inconsistent without him? I don't know. But we have had some success when we've had players out of the lineup. We still have a chance to get [David] Freese back in the next 10 days or so, and if that happens, that should be a jolt offensively for the club. But overall, I just felt like the way things were going offensively, it made sense."
Ludwick, who has been a fan favorite during his four years in St. Louis, had mixed feelings about the deal.
"I'm excited," the newest Padre said. "Sad, excited, nervous, a lot of things...[Coming to St. Louis] jump-started my career. That's why I'm sad to leave. Management, coaching staff, players, I got along with everyone. I'm sad leaving the fans. They treated me great."
Westbrook, who has not been to the playoffs since 2007, carried a much merrier tone.
"I'm excited to go to a club contending for a playoff spot and pitch in some meaningful ballgames," he said. "That's why you play the game, for a chance to get into the playoffs, and I'm looking forward to doing that."
The righty, who had pitched over 210 innings per season from 2004-06 before undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of the 2009 campaign, has been slowly returning to form over the course of this season. Although he is 6-7 with a 4.65 ERA over the course of the season, he has seen a return to form lately, averaging 6.4 innings over his last 15 games.
Although St. Louis may miss Ludwick's bat while Jay transitions to a starting job, receiving some dependability from someone outside of Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia will help over the long stretch, and gives the Cardinals a serviceable options other than their top three starters come October.
If Cincinnati doesn't find some way to strengthen their bullpen, they may be looking up at St. Louis come playoff time.