Okay, so during Spring training, I was theorizing on the Cardinals upcoming season. I thought with the pitching staff we had, it would be a stretch to think the Birds could contend and stay in the NL Central race all year. Much to my pleasant surprise, the team and in particular the starting pitching has exceeded expectations and not only been in the race, but been one of the better teams in the NL. Several players have greatly exceeded expectations (Ryan Ludwick, Kyle Lohse, Skip Schumaker come to mind), and the starting pitching has been incredibly consistent, with the exception of Mike Parisi's starts, but that is another story. The other thought I had in the spring was that there were two players the Birds could absolutely not afford to lose - Adam Wainwright and Albert Pujols. Lo and behold, here we are in mid-June and the worst case scernario has come to fruition - both have been lost to the DL within the span of one week.
So, is it desperation time in St Louis? Is the season over? I don't think so...I think the Cards can survive June and stay close enough through the All-Star break that they can still make a run at the Cubs and/or a wild card berth in the second half. The key will be continued good performances by Todd Wellemeyer and Kyle Lohse, and also will require Joel Piniero to come back from the DL (he makes his first start tonight), and give the kind of consistent performances that he gave the Cards in 2007. The wild card is Braden Looper. Looper stepped up BIG last night when the Cardinals needed it with a 3-hit shutout over the Reds. Looper has been fabulous at times this year, but wildly inconsistent in other starts. If he can steady the ship and keep the team in games every time out, the Cardinals could still have a solid foursome of Lohse, Wellemeyer, Piniero and Looper. Mitchell Boggs looked good in his first ML start on Tuesday, and could be a good stop-gap as a fifth starter. Although this doesn't sound like a stellar rotation, these guys have all shown enough consistency this year or last to provide hope that the rotation can keep us in the race. A return by Wainwright and maybe even Chris Carpenter later in the summer could set St Louis up for a nice finish.
On to Pujols. As every fan knows, there is no replacing Albert...not even close. However, if the pitching holds and is solid, I believe there is potentially enough power offense between Ludwick, Ankiel, Glaus and maybe ever Chris Duncan to keep the Cards afloat. If they can get chip-in offense from guys like Joe Mather, Yadier Molina, Brendan Ryan and Cesar Izturis, they will be fine.
LaRussa's Cardinals have shown amazing resiliency through injury plagues in the past. If they can hold it together through the AS Break and get some of the key guys back, they can still have post-season plans come October.