The Nexus Of The Universe
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It has been a crazy year in sports. Dogfighting, steriods, and the NBA mess. There have been many bad things this summer, more than good. It has been an up and down year in sports. some bright moments, some sad moments, some downright ugly. The same can be said for the St. Louis Cardinals. The 2007 St. Louis Cardinals. A team that has changed so much over the course of the MLB season. The team that won the WS last year is under .500 They are currently in 3rd place. Yet the more I look at this team, the more I think the same thought:

The Cardinals Will Win The N.L. Central

There, I said it. I seriously think they will. There are so many things that have happened to this team this year. So much, I felt I had to blog about it. Because it gets lost in the shuffle of everything else.

Drunk Driving, Drugs, And Death- The season didn't get off to the best start. Actually, it got off to the worst start. During spring training, Tony La Russa got arrested for drunk driving. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.093 %. The legal limit in Florida(where it happened) is 0.08 %. La Russa handled the situation with class and dignity:

"I'm not sure what type of statement to give," La Russa said after the game. "Last night's situation is the opposite of feeling good. It was an embarrassment, so I apologize to anyone who is close to me, members of the Cardinals organization, our fans, I regret it, take responsibility and I'm not sure there is anything else I can say."

The Cardinals organization also handled it very well:

"The Cardinals organization remains supportive of Tony and we understand that he has enlisted representation to advise him through any legal process. The Cardinals apologize for any embarrassment and or distraction this reported occurrence has created towards the team and its loyal fans."

Right when the season began, tragedy hit this team like a hammer to the face. On April 29, Hancock's 2007 Ford Explorer hit the back of a flat bed tow truck. He died instantly. They later discovered he had a blood alcohol level of 0.157 % almost twice the legal limit in Missouri. They also found 8.55 grams of weed and a glass smoking pipe in his car. It was the 2nd time in 5 years a pitcher has died with the Cardinals, as Darryl Kile did in 2002 with a coronary artery blockage. Josh Hancock was 29 years old.

On The Field...- Things weren't getting much better. They went 22-29 dring the first 2 months of the season. Chris Carpenter, the 2005 Cy Young winner and the one who was keeping the starting pitching above water, found out he had bone spurs in his arm. He will under-go Tommy John Surgery and will miss the rest of this year and most of 2008. At the end of the first half, they had a 40-45 record with a team ERA of 4.72. Now, this is where the good came in...

The Ankiel Story- This story is nothing short of amazing. We all know it. Because of the Ankiel Watch in SI and the fact everyone remembers how great he was supposed to be as a pitcher, we all knew about this story. He flamed out as a pitcher, rebuilt himself into an outfielder and now he is hitting .286 with 4 HRs and 7 RBIs in 10 games. Ever since he has came up, the Cardinals look like they are having more fun. It looks like for the first time this season, they are enjoying themselves. Padres manager Bud Black had a great quote about Ankiel:

"You don't see that often. Actually, you don't see that since Babe Ruth."

The Pitching Wakes Up And Delivers- The rotation of this team has been mashed and mixed dozens of times. But ever since the All-Star Break, this pitching staff has done very well. Joel Pineiro, who was dumped by the Red Sox, has won 3 games in a row in the starting rotation. He is 3-1 with the Cardinals. Overall, the odd-ball collection of Pineiro, 2 ex-relievers turned starters(Braden Looper and Adam Wainwright), and 2 guys who had double-figure losses before July(Kip Wells and Anthony Reyes) have a combined ERA of 2.68 in the last 15 games. This team has an ERA of 4.40 in the 2nd half and an AVG of .284(up from .267 in the first half).

The Resurrection Of Troy Percival- Troy was with the Tigers in 2005 when a injury to his right forearm. His career was said to be over. Now, he has come back and done very well for them:

3-0, 2.70 ERA, 23.1 Innings, 15 Hits, 7 Runs, 3 HRs, 5 BBs, 25 Ks

He has been a big reason the bullpen has improved. Then you have Ryan Franklin:

4-2, 1.75 ERA, 61.2 Innings, 47 Hits, 13 Runs, 4 HRs, 8 BBs, 30 Ks

And Jason Isringhausen, who has rebounded very well from a rough 2006 and afew days ago pitched 2 innings in a game for the first time in 5 years:

4-0, 1.59 ERA, 51 Innings, 24 Saves, 28 Hits, 10 Runs, 2 HRs, 28 BBs, 45 Ks

The bullpen has actually been the team's biggest strong point for the whole year. Very underrated. Which brings me to my last point before I close:

Overview- This team is very underrated. It has one of the game's biggest superstars in Albert Pujols, one of the best managers ever in Tony La Russa, and they won the WS last year. They also have some of the best fans in sports. So why do they get lost? Maybe it is because they are still 61-62. But with all the things they went through, including Scott Rolen's and Jim Edmonds' careers fading, Scott Spiezio's(one of the best bench players in baseball) personal problems, and the fact that Adam Kennedy has been a bust, it is amazing to me how they are still in the race.

The reason why I think the Cardinals will win the N.L. Central is simple: No other team is stepping up. The Brewers have been completely falling apart in the 2nd half and the Cubs have been struggling ever since they came into first place. The Cardinals are overcoming all the odds and making a serious run. This team will not fade away. The Cardinals are the feel good story of this MLB season to me.

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