Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cardinals Bounce Back

What's surprising about the St. Louis Cardinals so far in the first month of the season, at least to me, is how much I look forward to watching the games. I didn't follow the team at all last year. They were boring, listless, lifeless; they gave away outs and games like they didn't care. The knock on them this year was all the players who had left. It turns out most of those players were dead wood. This team is exciting to watch because they are clearly competing in every aspect of the game.

I was especially interested in seeing how this team bounced back after puking up what should have been a sweep of division challengers Milwaukee in a disappointing day game loss. Instead of licking their wounds, the Cardinals took out their frustrations on San Francisco starter Matt Cain, who had just pitched a no-hitter into the 7th inning last week against the Redbirds. Cain was gone by the fourth inning, giving up eight runs, including homers by Chris Duncan and Phat Albert Pujols.

Once again, Cardinals pitching was dominant. Dave Duncan reclamation project Todd Wellemeyer threw seven strong innings, only giving up one sloppily manufactured run in the third. Nomadic reliever Ron Villone got the cleanup duty and finished the eighth and ninth without incident.

This club may lack the names that attract the attention of the Boston-New York obsessed national sports media, who only speak of the Cubs when they speak of the NL Central at all, but these players are all exceeding even the most unrealistically optimistic expectations of die-hard homers in Cardinal Nation.

The middle infield, which was supposed to be as weak as George Bush's economic policies, has looked like Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr so far. Cesar Izturis and Adam Kennedy are playing the type of defense that made their reputations, except they haven't played that way since 2004. No one could have expected the highlight-reel quality of their defense so far. And they're both producing offensively as well.

Troy Glaus hasn't gotten on track with his bat yet, but the fact that he can catch and throw at all makes him an improvement over all-DL-all-the-time Scott Rolen. When Glaus finally breaks out and hits for his usual career numbers, the middle of our lineup—Ankiel, Pujols, Glaus, Ludwick—is just going to be plain scary. Speaking of those couple of outfielders, the "starting five"—Ankiel, Ludwick, Duncan, Schumaker and Barton—are ranked at the top of most offensive and defensive categories as a group of outfielders.

All in all, there's no reason to think this start is a fluke. Let's see if they can figure out SF ace Lincecum today, who shut down the Birds last week on the West Coast. Cardinals starter Joel PiƱero is overdue to join in the parade of unexpected success.

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