FRANK MURTAUGH | JULY 2, 2007
baseball season halfway behind us, the 2007 St. Louis Cardinals --
the reigning world champions, remember -- have taught their legion of fans
some valuable lessons. For a brief and honest review, read on.
Starting pitching counts. Yeah, this belongs in the category of fire is
hot. But no development has impacted the Cardinals title defense like the
defection of sixty percent of last years rotation (Jeff Suppan, Jason
Marquis, and Jeff Weaver). Forced to move three relief pitchers -- Braden
Looper, Brad Thompson, and Todd Wellemeyer -- into his rotation, manager Tony
LaRussa has not only been crossing his fingers for merely five innings from
his starters, but hes had to lean on a bullpen heavy on imports (i.e.,
Russ Springer and Ryan Franklin) that has, to its credit, managed to keep St.
Louis within shouting distance of the National League Central Division lead.
Suppan (now with Milwaukee), Marquis (Cubs), and Weaver (Seattle) wont make
you forget Bob Gibson, but theyre inning-eaters, the 21st-century version
of a baseball teams backbone. When you add the prolonged absence of
surgically repaired ace Chris Carpenter and number-two starter Mark Mulder,
the Cards are fortunate to have any feathers left on their wings.
Albert Pujols is human. Exactly three men in baseball history have put
together six consecutive seasons with a .300 batting average, 30 home runs,
100 runs, and 100 RBIs: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig (heard of them?), and Albert
Pujols. El Hombre is going to have difficulty extending his streak as his
batting average (.307 through Sunday) and runs (47) are on track for career
lows. That said, he remains the best hitter on the Cardinal team. But Pujols
hasnt won many games by himself, a lesson for those who build the lineup
around him. Which brings us to . . .
Walt Jocketty is human, too. Lets try -- try, people! -- to forget the deal
that sent Dan Haren (an American League All-Star and a leading candidate for
the AL Cy Young Award) to Oakland for Mulder before the 2005 season. The
much-celebrated Cardinal general manager made two big moves over the last
offseason, and they have turned into certifiable busts: pitcher Kip Wells
(3-11, 6.30 ERA) and second baseman Adam Kennedy (.209). Carpenters injury
and Wells struggles have forced Adam Wainwright into the role of ace in
only his second big-league season. A hero as the Cardinals closer last
October, Wainwright would be a fine number-three or -four starter at this
stage of his career. As for Kennedy, the former Memphis Redbird star has
been outplayed by Aaron Miles, a career utility infielder. And with two
years remaining on his contract -- Wells was signed to a one-year deal --
Kennedy may prove to be the bigger thorn in Jockettys side.
Rolen out, Buehrle in. Gold Glove aside, third basemen who hit 4 home runs
in 67 games can be found on the bargain rack in the free agency market.
Scott Rolen has become a dragging weight on the Good Ship Cardinal -- one
with more than $30 million owed him over the next three seasons -- so if
theres a team out there who might consider the former(?) slugger an asset,
Jocketty should spring at the deal. On the buyers side of the ledger, Mark
Buehrle has long expressed an interest in pitching for St. Louis, the club
he cheered as a boy in St. Charles, Missouri. And that was while he was
winning a World Series, churning out six straight 200-inning seasons, and
throwing a no-hitter for the White Sox. With the South Siders out of
contention in the American League Central and Buehrle a free agent at years
end, this big lefty will be ripe for the picking.
The future is 2008, and no later. Centerfielder Colby Rasmus is the best
non-pitching prospect the Cardinals have seen since Pujols stormed through
the system in 2000. Still at Double-A Springfield, Rasmus seems to be
targeted for Memphis in 2008 and St. Louis in 2009. Why the delay? With
Rasmus turning 21 next month -- and knocking Double-A pitching around -- why
not let him cut his Triple-A teeth this season? Jim Edmonds is under
contract for one more season -- 2009 -- which would seem to present a perfect
passing-of-the-torch scenario for the Cardinals. Unable to play 150 games
anymore, Edmonds could show a rookie Rasmus what it takes to patrol center
at Busch Stadium. Its time we see Rasmus in a Memphis uniform.