2005 Cardinals - A Team with Heart

All doubts removed


I'll be the first to admit it.  I was worried.    When shortly after the All-Star break the Cardinal disabled list grew to the proportions of a four-year old's Christmas wish list, and with Houston Astros playing at the their best, with the Cubs starting to stir, and with the airspace between Memphis and St. Louis jammed with flights loaded with AAA rookies, I began to wonder if the Cardinals could really hold on.


O me of little faith!  What I couldn't appreciate then and marvel at today is the amount of heart shown by this team in the past month.  With the Cubs now firmly mired in fourth place in the NL Central and fading faster than my blue jeans in bleach, and Houston showing signs of wavering in their quest to catch the Cardinals, the Redbirds have absolutely impressed me with their ability to overcome adversity and continue their relentless pursuit of a World Series. 


These guys could have succumbed to the malaise of self-pity and failing expectations, but in rising above it all some new heroes have emerged as the old(?) heroes have stepped up as well.  It was always safe to say that guys named Pujols, Edmonds, and Carpenter would be the bulwarks of performance if they could avoid injury, but who expected so much from John Rodriguez?  He wasn't even in the Cardinal organization at the start of the season.  Gall, Seabol, Mahoney, and now perhaps Anthony Reyes were all pretty well written off to spend the entire summer in Memphis.


Think this isn't an extended team effort?  How about Cardinal team physician Rick Wright's and trainer Barry Weinberg's work with Albert Pujols in the off-season?  Shock wave therapy for plantar fasciitis is a fairly new treatment, but Dr. Wright's ministrations seemed to have been effective and lasting.  When was the last time you saw Albert limp around the bases?


David Eckstein continues to amaze.  He has struggled a bit lately and seems to be susceptible to the heat of a St. Louis summer, but his walk-off grand slam Sunday against Atlanta may loom as the defining moment when the Cards executed the de facto clinching of the NL Central.  Eckstein's bases-clearing poke into the left field stands was a stake in the heart of anyone who thought the Cardinals might be catchable.


So Taguchi has been a particular interest of mine.  His precision in executing the fundamentals of the game, his solid defense, and remarkably timely hitting have been key in maintaining the Redbirds dominance.  His home run against the Florida Marlins was dramatic and needed.    As well, Mark Grudzielanek fought off an early second half slump and is pounding the ball mercilessly.  He almost singlehandedly beat the Milwaukee Brewers in game one of that series with his career-high five RBI's.  Taguchi's batting average is now up to .285, Grudz's at .300.  Both were closing rapidly on .260 a few weeks ago. 


Abraham Nunez remains rock-solid and versatile.  I think if he were asked to sell beer in the upper deck he would do it gladly and well.  All Nunez has done is fill in for for perhaps the best third baseman in the history of the game.  He has been defensively adept and offensively a true middle-of-the-line-up threat.  I wish Scott Rolen were well and occupying the hot corner, but Nunez has shown his mettle on numerous occasions.  He has been a remarkable find for the Cardinals and has exceeded the expectations of many.


When Anthony Reyes takes the mound against Milwaukee tonight, it will be the first time all season that someone other than Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Matt Morris, Jason Marquis, and Jeff Suppan has started.  Cardinal starting pitching has been sound if not stellar, but the starting rotation appears to be tiring and the extra day of rest will benefit them greatly.  Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan might do well to consider one more day off toward the end of the month.


The bullpen pitchers have been strong, especially guys like Al Reyes and Randy Flores.  All of the pitchers in the pen have had some hiccups.  That's the nature of the beast out there, and if Ray King can regain his control and Jason Isringhausen can get just a little more locked in, they should continue to do well.


One more thought.  As the disabled return to action, expect to see a rested, reinvigorated, motivated group of players glad to have the team's nucleus restored and functional.  With Yadier Molina, Reggie Sanders, Larry Walker, and Scott Rolen in the line-up and up to game speed, the Cardinals are simply the best team in baseball today.  What if Walker and Rolen can't return?  I'll gladly take my chances with Nunez, Taguchi, and Rodriguez.


When all the dust settles on the 2005 Redbird season, folks may scratch their heads and wonder how they maintained a double digit lead in the NL Central.  With the guts of the line-up ripped out by injuries, the heart of team remained intact and through sheer determination has soldiered  on while the injured recover.  The post-season is the great unknown, but as the Cardinals lead the National League in wins at this writing, the best is only going to get better in the days ahead.  This is one tough team, and now I know better than to doubt them.


Rex Duncan


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