The first two weeks of the Cardinals' 2005 campaign has been an experience in deja' vu, the feeling that we have experienced this before. One year ago we experienced this same lackadaisical approach that led to a troubling April-May stretch during which we wondered if the team was for real. 105 wins later, of course, we knew better. The sweep of an improved Brewers club this weekend should produce some light at the end of the tunnel for all of us who are hoping for back-to-back World Series appearances.
The most exciting news is that Cardinal starting pitching was impressive. Chris Carpenter, Jeff (The Road Warrior) Suppan, and Jason Marquis all ate bountiful helpings of innings. They kept Brewer hitters in the park and back on their heels. Also of note is that closer Jason Isringhausen has already accumulated five saves. Granted, Izzy's saves haven't all been pretty, but he got the job done, pitched in every game this weekend in Milwaukee, and seems to be healthy after his hip surgery. His control problems remain troubling, but you can't argue with results.
The defense certainly asserted itself as the Cardinal defenders flashed copious amounts of leather. Mark Grudzielanek's running, diving, backwards grab of a sinking liner to short right field should be the play of the week on "This Week In Baseball". It was a tremendous play that should answer concerns about Grudz's defensive skills.
We shouldn't take Jim Edmonds for granted. His over-the-shoulder catch Sunday in center running towards the wall and away from the hitter was classic Edmonds and deflated the Brewers. He pancaked onto the warning track with ball firmly in glove. He has done this so often we just expect it, but that's not fair. Edmonds is such a rare defensive talent that we should never fail to appreciate what he is able to accomplish in center field.
Although still not barking with the authority expected, Cardinal bats are rumbling to life again. Most notably, Scott Rolen had a strong offensive showing against good Brewers pitching. His home run Sunday was the game winner. Hopefully, Rolen is back on track and is now seeing the ball better after some earlier difficulties.
Of concern still is the offensive output of young catcher Yadier Molina. While certainly holding his own behind the plate, Molina's batting average is an infinitesimal .034. His average right now makes the Mendoza line look like a dream. Molina was expected to be a stronger offensive force than the departed Mike Matheny, but that hasn't happened yet in this young season.
Another concern that continues to hang over the Cardinal clubhouse is the condition of Albert Pujols' foot. During Sunday's game, he legged out an infield hit and seemed to limp slightly after crossing first base. One's first thought with a man of Pujols' musculature is that he might have tweaked a hamstring. That concern was laid to rest as he scored from first on a goofy bloop single to center that was misplayed. Pujols, running aggressively, made a wide turn at third and scored when the Brewers found a way to misplay the ball no less than three times on the play. He crossed the plate with no apparent ill effects, tying the score at 2.
The last and perhaps most pressing question is the mystery of Mark Mulder. Mulder hasn't even deserved to win yet and the first half of last season is when he was most effective. The Cardinals gave up some pretty talented people to bring him to St. Louis. At this early juncture, the investment hasn't paid off. Mulder's 8.18 ERA is in stark and depressing contrast to Jason Marquis's 1.33. It's far too early to begin questioning the value of the trade, but much is riding on Mark Mulder's shoulders. He is going to have to show progress soon if he is to justify the costly trade that brought him to Busch.
The Cardinals are rumbling. The sweep of the Brewers, the first time the Redbirds have done this since 2002, should serve as a warning to rest of the NL that this team is dangerous, loaded, and not to be taken lightly. Those who make mistakes against the 2005 Cardinals will pay dearly. The sweep should also serve notice to Cardinal Nation that 2005 will be another great year, which hopefully will culminate in a happier October conclusion.
You can write to Rex Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org