Patience is proving to be such a virtue for the 2006 Cardinals. In the hue and cry surrounding Albert Pujols' injury and other perceived deficiencies, that Jocketty, La Russa and Cardinal ownership kept their heads while others saw the sky falling is a good thing. Had they heeded the cries of the panicked, this would be a lesser team today.
Last year, pundits were singing the blues over Yadier Molina's poor offensive performance during the first two months of the season. Molina's history was that he would indeed hit, and he did. He finished the season with a respectable .252 batting average, up significantly from the Mendoza-like start to the campaign. Last May, he hit for a .321 average.
In 2006, it's more of the same both in terms of offensive output and harping criticism. The fact is that Molina has started the season exactly as he did last year, and exactly as he probably will next year and the next and the next. So far for the month of June Molina has hit a robust .382 and his numbers are slowing rising. In mid-May, Molina's average was stuck around .170. Today it is .215. Slow yet demonstrable progress is being made.
We used to love Mike Matheny's bat during the first month of the season, then lament it for the rest, yet nobody suggested replacing him. Matheny and Molina are two of a kind – new age catchers who are prized more for their defensive skills, on-field leadership, and deft handling of pitchers, than offense. For all the carping, La Russa is correctly adamant in keeping the cannon-armed Molina right where he is. He also is correctly confident that when the season ends, Yadier Molina will have a .260-.270 batting average, buoying the bottom of the order. Get rid of Molina? Get real!
Then down goes Albert Pujols for up to six weeks on the Disabled List. Quick! Trade a starting pitcher for a proven offensive powerhouse! Whether that "offensive powerhouse" exists is subject to debate on its own merits, but one thing is clear. After a couple of weeks of adjustment the present middle of the batting order, and especially Scott Rolen now hitting in Albert's 3rd spot in the order, has picked up the pace quite nicely. Rolen has been hitting nearly .500 since Pujols' injury and shows no signs of slowing down. Today he is batting a torrid .350, second in the league. Even his outs are productive.
Everyone in the line-up, especially Juan Encarnacion, seems to be picking up his game. While clearly the Cardinals are not the same team without Sir Albert, these guys are doing a pretty good job of responding as professionals and as a team to their time of adversity, and the Redbird's lead in the NL Central is similar to when Pujols went down.
One note on Rolen – inexplicably and incredibly he is running second behind the Mets' David Wright in the polling for the National League All-Star third base position. That is simply a miscarriage of justice that can only be corrected by a massive infusion of votes for Rolen by Cardinal Nation. No disrespect to Wright is intended, but Scott Rolen is the best third baseman in the game today – possibly ever. If you read this, you've got a computer. Get on the Cardinals website and vote the maximum 25 times for Scott Rolen. At this rate, he could be both the MVP and the Comeback Player of the Year. Give him his due.
Another player who has made the most of Pujols' injury is Chris Duncan. I had an interesting conversation recently with someone who said Duncan's presence on the team was little short of nepotism. I wonder what he thinks now as Dunc the Younger is hitting .300 and has certainly not embarrassed himself in the field. Chris is making us forget about knuckleballing catcher Cody McKay of yesteryear.
For those who lost their heads and saw the sky falling, we should count our blessings that Jocketty, La Russa and company have kept theirs. I don't suggest that the Cardinals not consider trades. It only makes business sense given the number of soon-to-be free agents in the starting rotation. But those decisions should be taken thoughtfully, deliberately, and patiently – all hallmarks of GM-extraordinaire Jocketty. Patience is the word today, for if the Earth and everything that's in it is to be for Cardinal Nation in 2006 and beyond, look no further for guidance than Cardinal management and Kipling.