The 2007 Cardinals are finally playing like the October 2006 Cardinals. After being below .500 and playing terrible baseball for the first 4 months or so the Cardinals are finally making a run at the NL title. Once Carpenter was basically out for the season and then some after a single opening day start, the Cardinals have played without urgency and have only gotten consistent contribution from two starters, Pujols and Duncan. The retreads that Jocketty brought in over and over proved to be bad moves. Mike Maroth: terrible so far with the exception of his first NL start. Tomo Ohka: did not even make it to the majors with the Cards.
Then there’s Kip Wells who has been terrible up until his last few starts. His resurgence, the acquisition of a seemingly solid starter, Joel Piniero and the recall of Rick Ankiel has coincided with the Cardinals surge to 3.5 games out after two victories over the Brew Crew. Piniero has won his last two starts, including one against the Brewers, Ankiel hit 3 homers in his first three games as a Rightfielder, and Kip Wells has won his last two starts and allowed just two runs in a loss before starting his current winning streak. In fact he is 3-2 since with a Cardinal-won no decision since July 18, which was the first game after he was nearly permanently dropped from the rotation. Now in 6 games since being called up, Rick Ankiel is coming back to earth but is still batting .295 with 3 homers and 6 RBIs and is slugging .667. So the Cardinals are 5-1 since Ankiel’s promotion and are only 3.5 games out with four games left against the now struggling first place Brewers and 8 games remaining with the second place Cubbies.
The Cardinals also did a bit of addition by subtraction that coincided with this surge such as relegating the not-quite-ready for the DL Juan Encarnacion to the bench and struggling first year Cardinal Adam Kennedy, hitting in the low .200s all season out for the season with knee surgery. Sure LaRussa’s public humiliation of Juan does not do much for team morale or public team image but Juan simply does not hustle and unless he has 25-30 HRs and 75 RBIs by this point he cannot be allowed to lolligag if this team is going to succeed.
Within the next two weeks the Cards will get long injured formerly dominant starting pitcher Mark Mulder so the fact that they did not get Dontrelle Willis or even Joe Kennedy at the trade deadline does not hurt as much. Plus they have until September 1, the waiver deadline to make a Woody Williams like pickup. The Cardinals need someone to be there postseason Jeff Weaver (should they make it there).
The fact that the Cards are still in contention is a testimony to the character of their players. The Cardinals have had three drug or alcohol related incidents one of them involving manager Tony LaRussa and it is arguable that LaRussa is to blame for the Cards poor first half plus. But if Tony can guide his team to yet another division title and beyond, he will deserve that elusive manager of the year award.