The Five Hole with Chris Gift

From "the Five Hole", Game Time's Chris Gift gives us his take on the status of the St. Louis Cardinals and a look ahead at the July 31st trade dealine. Who's going, who's staying, and who knows what is going on?

Walking out of the ballpark in near delirium Sunday afternoon, singing whatever could come to mind, but at the same time attempting to evaluate this recent hot streak (the team, not the weather) that followed a winter weather advisory of a cold streak, I still don't know what to make of this team.

The walk to the car, and maybe I heard it in traffic, but as the 100 game mark approaches, I can't get Don Henley out of my mind.

The more I know, the less I understand.

All the things I thought I knew, I'm learning again.

To paraphrase Mike Shannon, every three weeks or so, the outlook for this team shifts 360 degrees.

A week ago, this column called for trading Jim Edmonds and detailed each starting pitcher's shortcomings. Now the question is how much can Walt Jocketty add without trading Adam Wainwright and Anthony Reyes?

A week from now, the correct trade deadline role for the team may be to sell. But for now, it seems that the season that had turned south in interleague play and on the first part of the road trip to Atlanta has gone back north, thereby switching 360 degrees.

Amazing what a little starting pitching does for the team. Amazing what a little starting pitching does for pessimistic columnists. Amazing how a winning streak can complicate decisions before the deadline.

The Cardinals' ability to be a major player in the July 31 swap meet depends more on faith in Mark Mulder's health than anything else.

Jeff Weaver won't have enough time to learn from Dave Duncan for the team to make a decision on him, so he gets the benefit of the doubt as part of the pitching staff. But the drawback is that Weaver has no tradability. It is possible that if no trade offer is good enough for any of the other staff members that the Cardinals could designate two starting pitchers for assignment in the same season, and still make a respectable run in October.

With Weaver, and Chris Carpenter not going anywhere, there are four pitchers vying for three spots in the starting rotation.

If this is eight weeks ago, Mulder is extremely tradable. Mulder's start at home against the Mets brought to mind Steve Carlton. Like Carlton, Mulder will probably leave here in a salary dispute and the team will most likely be left with nothing to show for it.

But Mulder's injury, which there is no reason to doubt he will recover from, maybe not completely, but well enough to pitch for the rest of the season, couldn't have occurred at a worse time for the team. Mulder won't be healthy enough to trade on July 31, and he won't clear waivers for a post July 31 trade. The chances of a Mulder for Bobby Abreu deal after August 1st are about the same as Rick Ankiel being the left fielder next season.

Anthony Reyes belongs. Anthony Reyes should have used the All-Star Break to rent a truck in Memphis and move all of his stuff to St. Louis. Even though Reyes has a losing record, his one hitter against the White Sox and his two wins, plus all that he has shown in AAA and his other starts cements his spot among the starting five.

Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan both had strong outings against the Dodgers. Both starts resulted in no decisions, but Marquis' start on Thursday and Suppan's on Saturday showed the potential that both have to be solid number three starters.

All the things I thought I knew, I'm learning again.

If the Cardinals deal from their strength (strength in terms of numbers, that is, especially if 2007 and Adam Wainwright are included), then a starter will be dealt, but what does the team need in return?

A leftfielder? Probably not.

Since his last (and what should be final) recall, Chris Duncan is 10 for 26 with a slugging percentage in the neighborhood of .600. Duncan gives the team youth, and more importantly he gives the team a power hitting corner outfielder from the left side. His OPS is over 100 points higher than Edmonds' and seems to be patient enough to know that when hitting in front of Albert Pujols that he will get pitches to hit.

Hector Luna and Aaron Miles seem to have the second base platoon at a level where Luna provides a little more offense, and Miles is better defensively while neither embarrasses themselves and unless a player like Alfonso Soriano is there just for the taking, a deal doesn't need to be made.

Maybe the right answer is putting Marquis in the bullpen, and using him in a Brooks Kieschnick role where he is both a pinch hitter and a reliever. Marquis' meal ticket on the mound is his sinker, if he throws it too much when he starts he gets lit up, if he throws it too little and relies on his other pitches, he gets lit up. Why not put Marquis in the bullpen where he can come in for an inning, dominate, hit for himself and then give way to Braden Looper or Jason Isringhausen?

As fans we have to trust Jocketty, his trades usually come out of the blue and are usually very beneficial down the stretch run. Will Clark, Larry Walker, and Scott Rolen all came here as surprises. So don't count on a Mulder for Abreu trade, but don't rule out crazy ones because Walt has been known to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers this time of year for about the last ten years.



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