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Cardinals Seeing Red

STL     OR    cincinnatireds.jpg

At the beginning of this season, the St. Louis Cardinals were virtually everyone’s choice to win the NL Central division, and to be one of the National League’s best teams.  And that prediction was working out fine through most of the first half of this season, although the Cincinnati Reds were playing way past their expectations.   Since the All Star Break however, the Cards have been one of the MLB’s worst teams, and they’ve chosen a very bad time to struggle. 

For most contenders, August is the time to pull away from your division rivals, and that’s definitely one of the keys to winning the NL Central, since the spread between 1st and 6th in the division is usually over 20 games.  While the Reds have continued their solid play, the Cardinals have been playing progressively worse since the All Star Break. 

Since July 13, the Cardinals are 14-16, which isn’t terrible, but considering they’ve been swept by the Cubs and Pirates, two of the NL Central’s bottomfeeders, it’s a pretty bad record.  And it’s far better than the 4-9 mark St. Louis has put together so far this month.  In other words, as the Trade Deadline came and went, the Cardinals started going down. 

One interesting note here is that GM Walt Jocketty has always pulled off surprising moves at the Deadline, trying to help the Cardinals through the stretch run and into the playoffs.  This year, his only move was to acquire Ronnie Belliard from Cleveland for Hector Luna.  While Belliard does give St. Louis a good everyday infielder, he is not going to play the key role that guys like Larry Walker did in the final months of the season.  The other curious thing is that Jocketty tried to add offense to an already potent lineup, while ignoring his badly inconsistent starting and relief pitching. 

The starting pitching for St. Louis has been downright awful in August.  Staff ace and 2005 Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter has a 6.92ERA this month, and hasn’t produced a quality start in about 3 weeks.  Number 2 starter Jeff Suppan has a 5.09ERA this month, and while he has pitched very well at times, he has been off-and-on the entire season.  Jason Marquis has a 6.14ERA this month, and he has only produced 4 quality starts in 7 outings since the All Star Break, earning just one win during that span.  Rookie Anthony Reyes has been the Cardinals’ best starter of late, putting up a 2.70ERA this month, and a 4.78ERA over the last 30 days.  And finally, 5th starter Jeff Weaver has been inconsistent at best for St. Louis, showing flashes of brilliance, but then receding into the dark his next outing. 

Not much can be said for the Cardinals bullpen either.  Jason Isringhausen seems like a solid closer, but a closer look at his numbers reveals a whopping 8 blown saves, and a ERA of over 3.00.  Braden Looper has been an inconsistent reliever, shutting down opposing hitters one outing, but allowing 3 runs the next.  Quite possibly the best reliever for St. Louis lately has been recently acquired Jorge Sosa, who has been lights-out since coming over from Atlanta.  Rookies Adam Wainwright, Josh Hancock, and Brad Thompson round out the ‘pen, and they’ve pitched well, but have also yielded runs when the Cardinals had none to give. 

Now the Cardinals have come to a crucial point in their season.  Ahead 1.5 games in the NL Central, the Cardinals face a 3 game series at home against the Cincinnati Reds.  This series is the last head-to-head matchup between the Cardinals and Reds, so it could have major implications on how the NL Central division plays out these final months.  While the Reds have nothing to lose, the Cardinals certainly need to prove something after getting swept by the woeful Pirates, and losing the finale of that series 7-0. 

Walt Jocketty should have learned long ago that pitching, not hitting, makes a great baseball team.  There are many examples of this, such as the Texas Rangers, who possess one of the MLB’s most potent lineups, but struggle because their pitchers put the team into insurmountable deficits way too often.  He did not make a major move at the deadline, nor did he improve his pitching heading into the stretch run, the question is, will Jocketty’s neglect of the pitching aspect of the team keep the Cardinals out of the playoffs for the first time in years?

My Prediction: The Reds take 2 of 3 in this series and win the NL Central this season.  St. Louis takes the Wildcard.

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