After earning just four wins in a 17-game span, the turned-around Cardinals rotation has gained victories in four straight games. Before the club starts a six-game trip Tuesday night in Chicago, it is 8-5 without injured star Albert Pujols in the lineup.
"No disrespect to Albert," teammate Scott Rolen said, "but he can't pitch. Our bench players have been great, and our pitchers have been great." But some of the regulars have been outstanding, too. Rolen has hit .372 with 16 RBIs and 16 runs scored in the last 13 games. Right fielder Juan Encarnacion is riding a 10-game hitting streak and has hit .421 with 14 RBIs.
Catcher Yadier Molina has emerged from a two-month funk to hit .305.
Pujols, recovering from a strained right oblique muscle, technically becomes eligible to leave the disabled list Tuesday. He will hit in a simulated game in Chicago and might even be able to serve as the designated hitter in Detroit this weekend.
"There are steps he has to clear," manager Tony La Russa said. "He hasn't climbed those steps yet."
--RHP Sidney Ponson, 4-2 but struggling, is slated to be in the bullpen for the next two or three series. Though it hasn't been announced yet, RHP Anthony Reyes is likely to be recalled from Triple-A Memphis to start Thursday in Chicago.
--Without injured 1B Albert Pujols, the Cardinals are hitting .297 and have scored 73 runs in 13 games.
--RHP Jason Isringhausen, who has a major-league-leading 24 saves, had had six saves in the last nine games and appears to have solved his control problems. Isringhausen has walked one and struck out 10 in his last six appearances after walking 23 in his first 25 outings.
"If they're going to beat me, they're going to have to hit me to do it," Isringhausen said. "No more walks. I can deal with that a lot easier."
"I was definitely light-headed at times" while taking grounders, Eckstein said.
--OF Larry Bigbie said it would be about a week before he could resume baseball activities after having an umbilical hernia surgically repaired. "I didn't realize what it effect it was having," Bigbie said. "I feel like I have more energy, feel more comfortable."