The key to the Cardinals success?
Of course there are many fans who will be quick to tell you that David Eckstein is the heart and soul of the 2005 edition of the St. Louis Cardinals. Throw in Mark Grudzielanek at second base and together they set a franchise record in turning double plays in 2005. This is amazing considering all the great shortstops and double play combinations in the celebrated history of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Then there is Albert Pujols, perhaps the greatest player in the history of the game. You can't go wrong if Pujols, is your answer. I mean, we will be talking about that home run in the ninth inning in Houston off of Pujols' bat, to bring the NLCS back to St. Louis, for 100 years.
But I would submit to you, especially after seeing Hector Luna coming into finish the game at third base in game three, that Abraham Nunez and his play at third has been the key to Cardinals' success.
Nunez is perhaps the most impressive or at least most important surprise of the St. Louis Cardinals 2005 season.
You expect Albert Pujols to be Albert Pujols, that is a given. Chris Carpenter is better than ever, but even at that, we were expecting him to be a staff ace type pitcher when he signed with St. Louis. The same can be said of Mark Mulder, he has the stuff that makes him a staff ace caliber type pitcher.
While some fans may be surprised by the performance of David Eckstein and Mark Grudzielanek, I really was ecstatic at the signing of these two and while I never expected any records to be set, I knew they were better than most had expected or projected.
The key to the Cardinals, in my opinion was when Nunez came in, in July to fill in for Scott Rolen, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list, before deciding to sit out the 2005 season after having shoulder surgery.
At the time Rolen went on the DL, he was hitting a mere .235 in 56 games with just 5 home runs and 28 RBI. For the record, he had 46 hits and scored 28 runs. Clearly at that stage of the season, Scott Rolen wasn't Scott Rolen. He had already made six errors in 56 games, as compared to the 10 errors he made in all of 2004. Rolen's fielding percentage when he went on the DL was .966, which just so happens to be his career average fielding percentage.
In comes Nunez. In a 139 games, Nunez hit .285 for the Redbirds, with 5 home runs and 44 RBI. For the record, he had 128 hits and scored 64 runs. This kind of performance and production was never expected from this bench/role player.
The big bonus from Nunez, was his defense at third which has been paramount to the Cardinals success this season. His fielding percentage at third? A Rolen type, .963.
Granted Rolen has range over Nunez, but no one could have expected Nunez to fill in for Rolen and helping his team, (not hurting) into the postseason, with his timely hitting and great defense.
It's the postseason performance of Nunez that may surprise you and it may even cause you to wonder, do we really miss Rolen?
Rolen had a very rough 2004 postseason, granted he wasn't 100% but in the '04 NLDS, Rolen was 0 for 12.
He rebounded in the NLCS, hitting .310 in seven games along with three home runs and six RBI. But it was Rolen's 0-for-15 performance in the World Series that contributed to the Cardinals losing four in a row to the Boston Red Sox.
Rolen's 2004 combined postseason numbers; .161 with 3 HR and 7 RBI in 15 games
Before Nunez was hurt in game three of the NLCS, he had been one of the Cardinals hottest hitters and his defense had been flawless.
In the Division Series against the Padres, Nunez hit .364 while scoring three runs in the three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres.
His hot bat carried over into the Championship Series against Houston. In the first three games, Abraham was hitting .400 on a team that was struggling to put runs on the board, hitting just .223 as a team.
Going into Game Six of the NLCS and Nunez's combined postseason numbers: in six games, .381 0 HR 0 RBI with 8 hits and 4 runs scored.
I'm not saying the Cardinals will be looking to give the third base job to Nunez in 2006. Nunez is no Scott Rolen. A healthy Scott Rolen, is in my opinion the best player to ever play third base.
But what I am saying is, give Abraham Nunez his props. Without him the last game at Busch Stadium most likely would have already been played.
Game Six of the NLCS is tonight in St. Louis and Nunez will be at third and that is good news for the St. Louis Cardinals. Give him his props.