A Starry July in St. Louis
- Updated: August 4, 2009
The early part of the month was dominated, in Cardinal talk, by the MLB All-Star Game, which was held in Busch Stadium on July 14. All the hype, all the hoopla, all the surrounding events cast their shadow on a team that came into the break in first place in the NL Central, 2.5 games ahead of their nearest competitor. St. Louis won 8 of their 12 games before the break and looked to be riding high, even as the offense continued to sputter.
John Mozeliak was maneuvering behind the scenes, however, and on July 22, after a day of swirling comments and controversy, he swapped Chris Duncan and either a player to be named later or cash to the Boston Red Sox for Julio Lugo. The controversy came when it was reported early that day at Viva El Birdos, one of the top Cardinal blogs, that the deal had been nixed due to threats from Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan. Chris Duncan was then demoted to Memphis, a move some saw as a compromise between the GM and field manager, before the trade was completed. While official sources have continued to deny that LaRussa and Duncan played any role in the delay of the trade, indicating instead it was due to haggling out financial issues, Dave Duncan has come out and publically indicated his displeasure.
All of that was quickly left behind, though, two days later, when Mozeliak sent three prospects, including Brett Wallace, the crown jewel of the farm system, to Oakland for Matt Holliday and cash. Holliday had been coveted by LaRussa and Cardinal management for a long while, as they were continually linked to him in the winter when Colorado was shopping him. Fans bewailed the cost involved in this deal, especially with no extension as part of the agreement, but agreed that the boost in offense would be a welcome sight.
Lugo and Holliday, coupled with the return of June trade acquisition Mark DeRosa from the disabled list, have given the Cards the offense that they have been searching for since a promising April decended into a scuffling May and June, with the pitching staff the only reason the Cards were afloat. From Friday, July 24, when all of them showed up in the same lineup, through Wednesday, July 29, the offense has put up 32 runs against top teams Philadelphia and Los Angeles. They have already rallied from a 3-run deficit, something they had only done three times prior to these moves. While the offense has tapered off some since then, scoring only 7 runs in a weekend set against the Astros, it awaits only the stirring of Albert Pujols, mired in one of his rare slumps, to get going again.
If the offense is what will push the Cardinals, who now sit just a half-game ahead of the Cubs for the NL Central lead as they reach their first off day in August, into October, it is likely to be the pitching that keeps them there. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright have continued to be the aces people expected out of them and Joel Pineiro continues to not be what people expected out of him. Kyle Lohse returned from the disabled list and has shown some rust, but also the ability to stay in games. Four of the five rotation slots usually give the Cardinals a good chance to win, especially with the revamped hitting attack.
Then there is Todd Wellemeyer. Wellemeyer continued to struggle in July, with one good game early followed by numerous starts where he gave up as many runs as innings pitched. With the changes in the offense, the Cardinals could not keep conceding every fifth game and so, earlier this week, the word came that Mitchell Boggs will replace Wellemeyer in the rotation for a while, with Wellemeyer moving on to the bullpen.
The Cardinals have proven that they are in “win now” mode and have put together a team that has a good chance of doing that. The All-Star Summer just might turn into a Red October.