Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tuesdays with Augie

Well, for those of you who watched Sunday's game against the Brewers, you saw a great comeback by the Cardinals, rallying from being down 5-0 to win 9-5 after a four-run fifth and five-run eighth. The Cards took three of four from the Brewers, now stand only six back, and ended the series on one of the highest points all season, hopefully providing that spark I spoke of on Sunday. But what now? Where do we go from here?

Good question. With two months left to play, including six against Milwaukee and seven against Chicago, the Cardinals need to get hot. Now. Luckily, the Cardinals start a three-game stint against the last team they swept, the Pirates, then head to Washington to play the not-so-good Nationals. But Milwaukee, and especially Chicago, are playing good baseball right now. The Brewers and Cubs will both be playing the Mets and Phils this week, so the Cards could get right back in the mix with a good week and a potentially bad one for the Milwaukee and Chicago. But as we've seen many times, the Cardinals can very easily turn out a bad week against mediocre teams. Let's take a look at the team and figure this out.

The bats came alive for the Cardinals this weekend at the right time. They showed a lot of heart and determination fighting back from the early deficits the Brewers put them in, so it's reassuring to see the offense work for St. Louis, as younger players like Ryan Ludwick and Chris Duncan are contributing huge and timely hits, and people like Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen are playing like they should. Juan Encarnacion has been hot, and you never know when Eckstein will throw down a three- or four-hit night. So the Cards can put up runs when they want to.

As for pitching, the bullpen has been holding it down so far this year. Relievers like Russ Springer and Ryan Franklin have come in and provided long-inning support when starters have given up big runs early. Which has happened far too many times. Troy Percival has pitched well one inning at a time, and Jason Isringhausen is having a decent year, even though he hasn't had many chances to make saves.

The main problem for the Cardinals, right now, is their starting pitching. Kip Wells and Anthony Reyes (who saved his job after Saturday's win) both have double-digit losses, Braden Looper has cooled off (and how) after a great start to the year, but pitchers like Adam Wainwright (who seems to get more comfortable with each start) and Brad Thompson has been throwing some great stuff. Mike Maroth has been iffy, and recently acquired Juan Pineiro from Boston could be a positive addition for a hurt rotation (you never know what kind of magic Dave Duncan will work on him).

Without Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder due to injuries (the former out until some time in '08, the latter possibly returning this year), and with the loss of Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis during the off-season, the Cardinals featured a starting rotation full of relievers who may not have been ready for the move. The biggest thing the Cardinals need to do to be a contender in the Central NOW (cuz let's face it, the Wild Card is waaaay out the window) is to keep those one- and two-run innings from turning into five-run innings. Getting that third out has been a challenge, and is the most glaring error for the Cards.

Personally, I'd just like to see them get above .500, and with a sweep of Pittsburgh, that's possible. We shall see. This season still isn't lost. For now.

Wow, are you still reading this? You either love the Cardinals like me, or you don't have anything better to do. Of course, if you've also read "The Mad Shatter" below, it's probably the latter. Thanks for reading, though. Chat soon we shall.

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