It is not just a surprise to me. All of
the preseason baseball magazines picked the Redbirds for no better
than a third-place finish. ESPN and Fox were no better, as everyone
just assumed that the race would boil down to Chicago and Houston,
and as I have said for the last two to three weeks, it still could.
But a funny thing happened on the way
to the forum, the Staples Center and the battles in baseball's
version of Norris Division struggles. Somebody forgot to tell the
Cardinals their place.
They also were very wrong in their
summations of the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers, and the
Pirates have done their damage along the way (don't be surprised if
they give the Cards a peck of trouble this week).
But how did all of this happen?
Obviously, injuries in Chicago and Houston have played a huge role
in the developments. But so has a rejuvenated Cardinal pitching
corps and an improving everyday lineup, if that is possible.
What I am saying is that we all knew
that Scott Rolen was good, but did we know he would put up MVP-like
numbers? How 'bout 75 RBIs BEFORE the All-Star break? Some guys
won't have that many all season. Heck, some won't have that many in
their stinkin' careers! Tony Womack hasn't hurt the program either.
He has been on a tear of late. Jim Edmonds has produced, and, of
course, after a slow start, Albert Pujols is being... well... Albert
Pujols... and I would never want to pitch to him.
Starters that everyone questioned,
including the fans, management and even their own teammates, have
been lights out so far. Chris Carpenter is not only on pace to
obviously be the comeback player of the year, he is one of the best
sports stories in ages. Jason Marquis is softening some of the pain
I feel with J.D. Drew no longer in a Redbird uniform. Jeff Suppan
has been up and down but has won some key outings. Woody Williams
has turned things around after a horrendous first month, and it even
appears that Matt Morris has righted his staggering ship by winning
four of his last five outings, most in spectacular fashion. Mike
Matheny continues his great game-calling behind the plate and may be
the glue to this whole outfit. Edgar Renteria continues to be a
great clutch player, and the bench has done more than hold its own.
Hector Luna, So Taguchi, Reggie Sanders, Cody McKay, Yadier Molina
and a host of others have chipped in with valuable contributions.
And what can you say about the play of one my all-time favorite
Cardinals, John Mabry? He has just been delivering... and at key
times. That guy is a gamer!
The bullpen has been nothing short of
stupendous. Ray King and Steve Kline give the 'Birds two solid and
dependable lefties out of the pen. Mike Lincoln, Cal Eldred, Jason
Simontacchi, Kiko Calero, Danny Haren and Jason Isringhausen have
been the reincarnation of Whitey's famous "bullpen by committee."
But, if I were giving a game ball to
anyone for the first three months of the year it would go to a
person or people I have not yet mentioned. No, it's not Walt
Jocketty... but he should get one daily. Every Card fan should be
tinkled pink that he is the GM. I think he is one of the best in
baseball and in sports overall. One reason is because he cares as
much as we do... How hard is that to figure out?
[to top of second column in
The game ball would go to Tony LaRussa,
and he would probably share it with Dave Duncan. I have been
critical of them both in this space through playoff years and
disappointing years... so winning or losing, I hope, has not clouded
my judgment. I just felt that for many years they struggled with the
National League game. They seemed to me to be better American League
coaches than they were National League... Just my opinion.
However, this season they have made
some changes. Don't know if those changes were imposed on them, if
they discussed major adjustments in the offseason, or if the
personnel this season just lends itself to it, but the Cardinals are
playing a different brand of baseball.
There is a right way and a lot of wrong
ways to play this game, and this year's bunch is having fun playing
it the right way. Tony seems to almost be a convert to small ball.
The 'Birds have actually squeezed home some runs, they hit behind
runners, they score sometimes without the benefit of a hit, and best
of all they don't sit around waiting for a six-run homer!
I think you have to swallow a lot of
pride to make sweeping changes like they made, and I'm hoping that
success will exonerate the strategy changes they have employed.
One other thing I noticed, and I'm not
the most observant fan in MLB history. The chemistry on this team
seems to be extraordinary. They seem to think it's them against the
world, and I hope they keep feeling this way all year long. If not,
I'm going to enjoy the ride as long as I can!
Hope you are getting out enjoying this
fabulous weather. Golf courses are crowded, but get out and hit a
Soon we'll insert some suggestions of
what you and your family can do in the area for fun.
The Chicago Bulls made some interesting
picks in the draft. If I understood it right, they got UConn's Ben
Gordon and Duke's Luell Deng and Chris Duhon. What do you think of
In between dodging the raindrops,
Wimbledon has had some great matches. Tune in and catch some if you
can. I'm bummed today because I've always wanted to attend a match
or two there. And it sounds like today they had several tickets that
went unpurchased... I'll take the first offer that comes my
Dog Daze was another big hit... Way to
go, Cindy McGill, Dave, Main Street and anyone else who had anything
to do with it!
I also hope to have a report from the
hospital's outing, and I know that Lincoln Speedway was hopping
again Sunday night!
months until Illini and ISU football!!!