What Happened?

If you've been away, perhaps on a beach in Aruba, where your fist met the wrong face… never mind. Anyway, if you haven't been paying attention, here are some of the recent Redbirds happenings and reactions. And, they're generally not good.

Three-fifths of what was the Cardinals starting rotation looked awful as the team lost on Tuesday and Wednesday to the White Sox in Chicago by a combined score of 33-11.

What happened to the pitching? Well, the telling moment might have been when deposed starter Sidney Ponson hit two batters in a short and incredibly ineffective relief stint. That understandably led to retaliation by the White Sox.

Later in the game, Sox pitcher David Riske plunked Chris Duncan in the leg and that should have been that. Because umpire warnings had already been issued, however, Riske took a three-game suspension and his volatile skipper Ozzie Guillen was assessed one game out.

The Cardinals were not penalized. Yet, the story continued when Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan accused Guillen of lying about incident-related apologies. Guillen aggravated matters by pretending not to know the hit player was Duncan's son.

What a surprise. They all lie when necessary to protect their interests. But, the fact that it was the coach's son who was involved, increased the distraction level on what should have been a relatively-minor incident.

Since then, the rapid return of Albert Pujols caused Chris Duncan to be returned to Triple-A to continue to improve on his game, both at the plate and defensively in the outfield.

Why did Ponson throw at the Sox? Only he knows. But, it could have something to do with them tattooing his pitches left and right.

But, Ponson wasn't alone. Tuesday night's starting pitcher, Mark Mulder, had owned the Sox when he was in the American League. But, he allowed nine runs in 2-1/3 brutal innings Tuesday night.

For Mulder, it was the culmination of a long, rough stretch of ineffective pitching. Subsequently, Mulder was placed on the disabled list. We were told that he was unable to straighten his pitching arm and would undergo an MRI.

Yet, before the results were in, his general manager suggested the primary reason for the DL trip was for a mental break, while his pitching coach admitted that he didn't know what more he could do to help Mulder.

Here on Saturday, we learn Mulder has a shoulder impingement, rotator cuff inflammation and a slight fraying of the labrum. Yet, no surgery is required. Makes me wonder how many other pitchers have similar problems.

Still, the second-guessers will be all over how Mulder was handled in recent weeks, despite having no idea what was discussed among the player, his coaches and doctors other than what they want us to know, which isn't much at all.

Next, Jason Marquis actually managed to gain respect from some after staying in Wednesday's game through five innings, despite having been charged with 13 earned runs.

We reported here that the White Sox as a team and many of their individual players were on a hot stretch, the likes of which hadn't been seen in Chicago for a long time. The point being that the Cardinals ran into a smoking team at just the wrong instant.

But, maybe the Sox had help. After the series, we learned through Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch that the Cardinals suspect the White Sox were stealing their signs via a centerfield camera at U.S. Cellular Field.

While the Cards supposedly changed signs after Marquis' mid-game departure Wednesday, why did it take them 14 innings of brutal baseball to decide to make the switch? We're not talking about rookie coaches here.

Speaking of rookies, Anthony Reyes was recalled from Memphis and pitched a dominant game Thursday, only to lose on a solo home run in the seventh inning. Instead of celebrating Reyes' accomplishment, some like Bernie Miklasz of the P-D, used this as an opportunity to flail team management for not "freeing" the young pitchers in the system.

The knowledge that the five starters who opened the season had the best ERA among NL staffs for some time and had only recently encountered trouble seemed lost. That and the fact that other than Reyes, there are no young pitchers in the system who are yet ready to make any significant impact in the major leagues. The best Cardinals pitching prospects have been in Double-A and below.

So, what was it in Chicago? Let's summarize.

Either Mulder is really hurt or he needs a mental break or something in between. Ponson resorted to hitting enemy batters, setting off boring and childish name-calling between coaches. Reyes should have been called up sooner, right? Even though he pitched in one game of the series, anyway? Marquis was plastered, but took it like a man. Or, is the problem that the "man" is keeping everyone down?

No, wait. The real cause was that the Sox were cheating. Whew!

With the Cardinals moving on to Detroit, they could put this stuff all behind them. Starting off the series, staff ace and reigning Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter took the mound on Friday night.

As you probably know, another double-digit offensive showing by the Cardinals' worthy opponent ensued, primarily as a result of Carpenter's worst outing of the season - seven runs allowed in seven innings.

Suppose they have a spy camera in Comerica Park, too? Or, maybe the dugout is bugged?

Or, how about the fact that the Tigers have now won 12 of their last 15 games and are a very good team?

Still, based on our Message Board traffic, some want to gut the 2006 Cardinals team and start over, despite the fact the team is in first place. After all, they just can't win in the post-season, some assert.

It seems that other Cardinals fans don't know how to feel. In blogdom, folks are assuring others it is ok to be upset. One popular blogger blames the ills on the generic "suits" at "Stadium Plaza" for not addressing the team's glaring needs, holding up the Sox as the desired model of how it should be done.

I realize I am in the minority, but when I think of the Chicago White Sox, I think as much about their last August and September as I do about their 2005 World Championship. As a refresher, that team almost missed the playoffs in what would have been one of the largest collapses in the history of Major League Baseball.

As the late-season losses mounted, many in the Sox Nation were calling for the head of general manager Kenny Williams for not adequately addressing the team's many problems at the deadline and attacking manager Ozzie Guillen, well, for being Ozzie.

Here's why. On August 1, the White Sox were 15 games in the lead in the American League Central. They proceeded to win just 12 and lose 16 during the month of August.

Then it got even worse. After a subsequent 4-10 stretch, by the third week of September the Sox' once-insurmountable lead had dwindled down to 1-1/2 games.

Yet, the Sox held on. And, we all know they got hot again and won the 11 games in October that matter most. How many people thought that was likely back on September 21?

In closing, I am not here to insult you by suggesting you how you should feel about the 2006 Cardinals. But, my take is that the Cardinals "suits" know what needs to be done. I am for giving them a chance to do it and to save the post-mortems for October if they're needed at all, not here in June when the team is in first place.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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