Granted the Cardinals are only 7-4 so far this month, but that's a huge improvement over the 9-16 stinking record in June.
When Albert Pujols went down with his injury, a cloud descended over the team. The starting pitching hit the wall all at once, timely hitting disappeared and the warts on Isringhausen surfaced at the worst times. Even when Pujols came back, it was for the toughest stretch of the schedule. But the air has cleared, the losing is a calendar page away. After the successful trip to Houston with the three crushing defeats for the Astros, the losing seems more of a distant memory, kind of like Sidney Ponson's career with the Cardinals.
And speaking of Ponson, his getting designated for assignment after one of his strongest outings of the year is a dangerous play by Cardinals management. The message to the team: you can perform under pressure knowing your job is on the line, and management can still decide to end your career with the franchise. I'm not arguing Ponson should still be a Cardinal, but he got a little bit of a raw deal.
Ponson has a 4-4 record with a rotund 5.24 ERA. His other comparables are even more mediocre. He allowed 82 hits over a measly 68.2 innings. Combine that with his 33 strikeouts compared with 29 walks and you're looking at one mediocre pitcher. Granted, the Cardinals took a chance on a troubled guy who has struggled with his weight, drinking and the law. But reports are now surfacing that the Yankees and Red Sox are interested in signing Ponson and possibly would have been willing to trade for him. Oops.
Take it as a Ponson for Jeff Weaver trade. Unfortunately, Weaver isn't blowing anyone's hair back either.
And speaking of Weaver, his addition to the Cardinals doesn't guarantee a postseason run, but it's not a desperation move. I'm going to conveniently ignore his 3-10 record and six-something ERA. I'm not going to bore you with his career record of 81-97. I will point out he's only 30, has shown enough promise to be the subject of several trades and has California-cool hair.
The guy has only allowed more than three runs in a game once since May 14 (in his last outing, a 12-4 loss where he allowed six earned runs in two innings). Since that date, he's pitched into the sixth inning six times and has kept his walks down while recording 34 strikeouts. Sounds a lot like Jeff Suppan to me. And that's what kind of element Weaver brings to the Cardinals: a journeyman who has seen his fair share of teams in a short time, career numbers strictly middle of the road and the opportunity to work with Dave Duncan while playing for a winning team. But don't think this will be the last addition to the team. There HAS to be another trade coming soon.
And speaking of trades, the unexpected demise of Mark Mulder, the inconsistency of Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan and the rather unknown commodities of Anthony Reyes and Jeff Weaver has left a gaping hole in the starting rotation as the trading deadline slowly approaches. While a legitimate corner outfielder with a productive bat has been the fans' desire since the team broke spring training, this team's starting pitching is simply not good enough. Over the past three seasons, the starters have been engineered to handle the long haul of the season, taking the ball about every five days and keeping an even keel. But in a short, pressure-packed series where every inning has scrutiny, the starters leave much to be desired.
Please allow me to echo about every other caller to sports talk radio the last three weeks. Do not trade Reyes or Adam Wainright. Do not mortgage the future. But make the best deal you can. Sounds simple enough.
The Cardinals took a chance when Mulder was acquired for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton. Any lessons to be learned? Well Haren would be the second best starter for the Cardinals behind Carpenter and Calero could be another setup man for Isringhausen, allowing Wainright to be used possibly in the starting rotation. Don't think that trade won't be in the back of Walt Jocketty's mind whenever he fields a call for the top two arms coming up with the franchise.
The franchise is quickly coming to a fork in the road. Jim Edmonds, now 36, only has a team option left for $10 million next year. Mulder, Marquis and Suppan are free agents. Isringhausen's dependability is a nightly question. Is there a long term answer out there for second base or left field? All questions that will need to start getting answered in the next few weeks and beyond.
Now that the season is half over, hopefully crowds at the new Busch stadium will be a little more into games and understand the growing importance of each. Part of the weirdness of attending games at the new stadium has been the number of people seeing the inside of the park for the first time. Crowds are huge, but thousands of people look around and are more interested in party areas and where the nearest concession stand is instead of the game on the field. Maybe everyone is just distracted by the ads on the busy scoreboard.
St. Louis Game Time is the official print publication of The Birdhouse. It can be purchased before all home games at the stadium and is also available by email subscription. For more content, visit www.stlouisgametime.com/baseball.