LOS ANGELES – Oh to be a St. Louis Cardinal in 2008. What have you got to lose?
Nobody expected much of the team with preseason predictions putting the Redbirds at the bottom of the National League Central. Now the end of May is upon us and somehow a team of no-names has drawn attention to itself, and sits tied with Chicago’s “Team of Destiny” for the top spot in the division. Oh, by the way, the Cardinals beat the rest of the NL in the race to 30 wins after posting a 4-0 shutout against the surging Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday (only the Boston Red Sox have more wins than St. Louis).
Head man Tony La Russa must be thrilled and confused all at the same time. All but three players on this year’s roster (Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Troy Glaus) are fighting for a consistent starting role. La Russa has changed his lineup more times this season than the Cincinnati Bengals have had players arrested. In 51 games the Cardinals’ skipper has filled out 41 different lineup cards, and has recycled only five of them.
The situation has gotten so bad that the current major league roster lists five different outfielders – all producing when their name is called leaving the Cardinals management scratching their collective heads to figure out when to play who, and what day to give which player time off. It’s also leaving a very worthy prospect stuck in Triple-A.
Outfielder Joe Mather has been putting up Nintendo-like numbers in the Pacific Coast League, but hasn’t been able to even make the major league roster as a bat boy. Any other year, Mather would have already been added after batting .302 with a .404 on-base percentage, a .647 slugging percentage and 10 home runs in only 116 at-bats. But La Russa can’t justify calling his name when Ryan Ludwick’s team-leading 13 homers, .346 average, .424 on-base percentage and .750 slugging percentage doesn’t even warrant a fulltime spot.
“I wouldn’t even discuss him, because there is no role for him,” La Russa told the team’s website. “How can he have a role? I’m sitting Ryan Ludwick today. So what’s [Mather’s] role? To sit? As it is now, these guys are scuffing for playing time. I’m having trouble getting [Brian] Barton at-bats.”
The position players aren’t the only young guns turning heads. Rookie pitcher Chris Perez has been a pleasant surprise, and if Jason Isringhausen has any hope of being the Cardinals’ closer when he returns from the DL, he better come prepared to throw some of the best outings of his career.
Perez landed a spot in the bullpen when the veteran staff started taking turns on the slumping train to the infirmary. Since his debut, Perez has made five appearances, allowed one hit, one walk, has struck out five, and has yet to allow a run. If those numbers stay consistent, the bullpen worries should go away and Isringhausen might be heading to the post office to fill out a Change of Address form.