The Five Hole - with Chris Gift

The last Kool-Aid drinker in St. Louis gives you his take on the State of the Nation.

If you're expecting the normal, rational, thoughtful baseball analysis that is usually in this space, well, you'll have to excuse me this time.

Usually, I'm the last Kool-Aid drinker in the city. I firmly subscribe to the theory that things are never as good, or as bad, as they seem. I doubt that any one player is good enough, or bad enough to make or break a team's season.

During a huge losing streak, I'm not saying that the sky is falling, and when the team is playing well, I'm not saying that the sky is falling.

I believe that with a few exceptions, teams can go through big losing streaks and still win in the long term, and the inverse is true as well.

For some reason, each day that goes by, I feel like a fan in Major League. I don't like ownership, but I love the team. If you're waiting for me to make an analogy between Lou Brown and Tony La Russa, well, just keep waiting.

This time, I'm jumping on board the bandwagon, and I'll be your tour guide for the last month of the season. On the way, please keep all arms and hands in the wagon and don't reach over into the playing area, or the fat usher will kick you out of the game like she did Sunday night.

The other night when Preston Wilson batted lead off against the Cubs, it showed an entire different look to the lineup. The key to Wilson batting leadoff is St. Louis' newest restaurateur, Albert Pujols. Wilson does strike out too much, but putting him in the leadoff spot (until David Eckstein returns) gives the team an American League-like look to it. In his six seasons in the big leagues, Wilson has never had this type of lineup hitting behind him. He hit 36 home runs just three years ago and drove in 141 that season. Granted, that was in Denver, but it takes a fair amount of talent to put up numbers like that no matter where the games are being played.

It is fair to say that Chris Duncan is a Rookie of the Year candidate. Philadelphia's Ryan Howard won it last year playing in fewer games than Duncan will this year, and Duncan's numbers will be comparable to Howard's .288 batting average and 22 homers.

Wilson batting ahead of Duncan will get him a steadier diet of fastballs. As soon as Wilson realizes that his strikeouts should go down. Duncan is hitting ahead of Pujols for the same reason. The top part of the lineup becomes that much more dangerous when the two players hitting ahead of Albert know what is coming.

I'm not suggesting moving David Eckstein down to eighth when he returns, and although he's in the twilight of his career, Jim Edmonds is the centerfielder for this team when he is healthy and not dizzy. But I don't think Edmonds is going to be the same this year. Among other concussionshortened careers, Troy Aikman is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at age 39, and future hockey Hall of Famer Scott Stevens had his career ended by post-concussion syndrome.

This team can't win anything more than the division with a dizzy Edmonds. Tony La Russa needs to put his foot down and announce that Juan Encarnacion will be the centerfielder for the rest of the season and that Edmonds will be the fourth outfielder.

When Eckstein comes back, everyone in the lineup should slide down one spot. Yes, Tony, that means batting Albert fourth and Scott Rolen fifth.

It's obvious that the team isn't going to win many games 1- 0 down the stretch, so why not try winning with an overwhelming offense?

Ronnie Belliard is turning out to be another of Walt Jocketty's "see, I told you I knew what I'm doing" trades, and when pressed, Juan Encarnacion can play a pretty decent centerfield.

Yadier Molina's defense is too good to have Gary Bennett hit cleanup every day, and Rolen, when healthy, may be the best all-around player in the game not named Alex Rodriguez.

Nobody is giving this team a chance in October, but as much as this team has been through, as awful as the regular season has been, rock bottom has been hit already and from here on, the team will be on an upswing headed towards the finish line.

Just how La Russa and Jocketty planned it.


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