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Cardinal hitters sizzling;
pitchers throwing BBs

By Jeff Mayfield          Send a link to a friend

[JUNE 28, 2004]  I am taking a whole new approach to this baseball situation in the Central Division. I am just going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts. Because right now the St. Louis Cardinals are playing some real good baseball.

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?


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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 few.

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 that draft?

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 way???!!!

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!

Only two months until Illini and ISU football!!!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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