A team that stumbled and limped its way to the All-Star Break does not look like the team that we have been seeing since. The Cardinals are back in first, and they absolutely deserve it. The team has been on fire the first five games out of the gate after the break, sweeping a Dodgers team that is duking it out in the brutal NL West and kicking them out of town in style with a late inning comeback win that featured tough pitching, smart baserunning, key hits and solid defense, then coming back last night with a second come from behind win in two days. This is the team fans have been waiting to see!
On his Sunday morning KTRS radio show this week Tony LaRussa admitted that the lineup has basically been triaged together. The manager is very gracious, taking every question with a chuckle, and the people that suck up to him with a ‘Thank you Mr. LaRussa, you’re a great manager and I hope you stay here for a real long time,’ always get a laugh. This week a caller requested that TLR not have any more C-team lineups. Tony was trying not to laugh himself when he said that although he did not think there had been any such lineups this year, the caller might not appreciate the lineup for that game. Oops!
People were ready to fight on Sunday when they saw a lineup that had no Colby Rasmus, no Albert Pujols, no Yadier Molina and no Tyler Greene, but the truth of the matter is that every one of those guys is dinged up, battered, bruised and desperately in need of a rest. It was even noted on the TV telecast on Sunday that Albert did not fight to get into the lineup when he saw the list, which means he needed that rest more than anyone knew. Matt Holliday almost did not make it into the lineup Sunday either after fouling a ball sharply off his ankle on Saturday. It was definitely a patchwork lineup that no one expected to play tough, especially not with Jeff Suppan on the mound. To be fair, Sup pitched a very nice game.
Monday’s game brought out a more ‘regular’ lineup, with only Matt Holliday hanging out in the dugout for the night. The tandem of Allen Craig and Jon Jay continued their strong play since receiving their calls to rejoin the big league club from AAA Memphis, and they worked hard to earn their starts Monday night. The rookies combined to go 3 for 7, and each player drove in a run, with Craig actually hitting his first career home run in a St. Louis uniform. The team went into an early hole behind pitcher Blake Hawksworth, but battled back, scratching out runs in the first and second innings and then smashing three home runs in the fifth to blow the game wide open. Blake battled his way through six innings and handed the game off to the bullpen, who continued their strong collective performance and finished off the win with little drama.
The fact of the matter is that the team is not back on top because the Reds finally started to fizzle. In all honesty the Reds just got better by bringing back Edinson Volquez from the disabled list. They have more starting pitching than they know what to do with, while many of the Cardinals have standing appointments with the training staff before and after every game. These Cards have been battling lately, and fought tooth and nail to make it back on top. They were not handed first, they took it by force.
For Cardinal fans right now, the best news is that this team is not playing at full strength, and they are still finding ways to win ballgames. As for that lengthy disabled list, Ryan Ludwick was dispatched to AAA Memphis for a rehab assignment on Monday. The plan is for him to hopefully return to the big club in time for this weekend’s series in Chicago against the Cubs. The news is not quite as bright for David Freese, as a report leaked out at the end of Monday’s game that the rookie third baseman dropped a dumbbell on one of his toes and broke it. The team hopes that this will not alter his progress towards rejoining the starting lineup, but time will tell. As for the pitchers, it is not even fair to guess when they will return anymore, because no one seems to know!
The team has been on fire out of the gate for the second half. Many of the players and coaches stated before play resumed last Thursday that they were about to catch on fire, and they certainly have. This is the team fans have been waiting for, and if this kind of play keeps up, they will not win every game like they have so far in this half, but it is fair to say the Central will not be decided anytime soon.