Albert Pujols’ is rumored to be ready to return to the Cardinals’ lineup as soon as Wednesday night, but whenever it happens (barring another injury) it will be a sight for sore eyes… and wrists… and elbows… and hands… and even appendices.
That’s because when Pujols returns to the Cardinals’ lineup, it will be the first time since April 15th in Los Angeles that the team will feature its 2011 opening day lineup… their “A-team” if you will.
If that lineup card looks a little strange to you, that’s because it is. The Cardinals have only featured it four times all season: Opening day, and April 11th, 12th, and 15th. That’s it. And yes… the Cardinals are in first place despite just about as much adversity as you can have injury-wise.
It’s truly been a remarkable run for the Cardinals thus far in the 2011 season, now 5 games beyond its midway point. The Red Birds came into the year as decided underdogs to the Reds and Brewers (and that was before the Adam Wainwright injury). I hate to keep beating a dead horse about the injuries, but what the Cardinals have been able to do this season is perhaps only slightly shy of miraculous.
Despite the injuries, the Cards have found a way to bang out 399 runs, averaging 4.64 a game: 2nd best in the National League. They’ve found diamonds in the rough in Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso. They’ve been able to give Jon Jay a ton of playing time, and he’s met the challenge head-on and flourished both at the plate and in the outfield.
Now that the lineup is (almost) healthy again, it should make Cardinals fans eager to see how the 2nd half playoff push is going to unfold. Right now, it’s a 4-horse race in the Central Division between the Cards, Reds, Brewers, and Pirates (say what?!). The Reds have experience. The Pirates have young guns who are playing their hearts out and don’t know any better. The Brewers have a ton of talent, and a desire to win now. The Red Birds are running on shear desire and heart. It’s truly anyone’s division at this point (ok, I’m going to spoil the ending for you a little, the Pirates don’t win it).
But if the Cardinals continue to fight for wins like they’ve got a hand tied behind their back, then this pennant race is already over.