The Five Hole with Chris Gift

As this painful regular season winds down, and the playoffs get ready to kick off in a few days, this is just as good a time as any to look back on the regular season.

I've always wondered what the best way to do this is, and for some reason I always liked those "A to Z" recaps.

So here it is, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals Regular

Season in Review, from A to Z.

A is for Albert- What else could it stand for? Any other A just doesn't compare. Eliminate Albert Pujols from this team, and magic numbers, playoff talk, and an above five hundred record are eliminated too.

B is for Busch- We welcomed a new Busch this year. Sure, it may have flaws, but all in all our new home is beautiful, and with Philadelphia's Citizen's Bank Park, and Houston's Minute Maid Park in mind, it plays fair, and that's most important.

C is for Carpenter- He will finish at worst, third in Cy Young voting this season. Chris Carpenter reminds me a lot of Barry Sanders. He's quiet, he's somewhat mysterious, and he's the best. More professionals should model themselves on and off the field after Carp.

D is for Duncan- Chris Duncan solved a huge problem both in left field and in the batting order with his surprising play this season. At first, it seemed like a feel-good story with Chris and Dave Duncan on the same team, like Cody and Dave McKay were a few years ago but with both father and son playing more prominent roles. Duncan has all the makings of an every day major leaguer in 2007 and beyond, if he can only hit left handed pitching consistently.

E is for Encarnacion- Many people still aren't sure how to pronounce "in-car-nah-see-own," but Juan Encarnacion has been the epitome of wysisyg (what you see is what you get). His numbers this year were on par with what he had the past few years, and what he will have his next two years here in St. Louis.

F is for Freel- Ryan Freel, Adam Dunn, Bronson Arroyo, and the rest of the Cincinnati Reds put the pressure on the Cardinals for most of the season. Twice this season, the Reds were either tied for or less than one game out of first place in the NL Central. Give Jerry Narron and Wayne Krivsky credit for the management and assembling of a young, energetic team that showed the Cardinals how to play. If the Cardinals played with half the heart the Reds played with, the hundred-win mark would have been achieved easily.

G is for Game Time - While it may not have gone over as well as we thought it would, once again, just like last year's hockey season, it has been a blast. Thank you to everybody involved. From Sean, John and Lester selling it, to McGraw talking about it, to Josh and Rob at Tin Can believing everything we say about it. Will, I don't know where we would be without your lead stories, Brad and Sean (again) and the Birdhouse, without you, there's no way I could fill 16 pages (I have a hard enough time filling one page). Like this year's hockey season, we will be back next season, and things will be better both inside Game Time and on the diamond.

H is for Howard - Although Philadelphia's Ryan Howard doesn't play here, he is a St. Louisan, and his HR and RBI outbursts will probably keep Albert from winning back-to-back MVPs. Howard wearing the number six on his jersey and slugging the ball all over the place gives us "youngins" an idea of what Stan the Man looked like doing the same thing during his prime.

I is for Injuries - First it was Albert's oblique, then Mark Mulder's shoulder, then Jim Edmonds' head, David Eckstein's oblique, Jason Isringhausen's hip, Larry Bigbie's inflamed Larry Bigbie, and Jason Marquis' mental block. Even Chris Carpenter spent time on the disabled list this year. While injuries are part of the game, the DL in St. Louis was exceedingly long. Ricardo Rincon, we hardly knew ye. Scott Rolen's second half production has dropped off because his surgically repaired shoulder is sore from the grind of the season. Talk half of the injuries away from this team, and see the team run away with the division

J is for J-Rod - Okay, so maybe John Rodriguez wasn't the answer in left field, but since his recall from Memphis, Johnny Load has become the number one bat off of the bench.

K was for Ray Lankford- K is now for Preston Wilson. Wysiwyg for Wilson as well as Encarcacion.

L is for Looper- Braden Looper is in the middle of a jam as I'm typing this, and while not a dominant reliever as he once was, Looper has done a more than serviceable job as a short man setting the table for Izzy. And for all Caddyshack fans, any time Looper comes in the game, I have a hard time not slipping into Carl Spackler mode and talking about being a "looper, jock, you know, caddy."

M is for Marquis and Mulder- While we're halfway through the alphabet, and have mentioned "what could have been" three times already, you just have to wonder what a healthy Mark Mulder, and a mentally balanced Jason Marquis could have brought to the team this year.

N is for Nothing- Ricardo Rincon, Sidney Ponson, and Larry Bigbie contributed nothing to the club this year.

O is for Ownership- Admit it, we have it pretty good here.

Since the "new owners" took over in 1996, there have been three losing seasons, and one more (2003) where the Cardinals finished above five hundred but missed the postseason. Anheuser- Busch did the right thin in selling to this group. Be glad it wasn't Bill Laurie

P is for Pujols- Yes, he gets two letters. It's Wednesday night as I'm typing this, and he just hit one into Big Mac Land off of Cla Meredith to stop the losing streak. You're damn right he gets two letters.

Q is for Quick- The past few weeks have shown how quick a lead can evaporate, and how quick a secure lead can turn into a headache.

R is for Rolen- You can have Alex Rodriguez, you can have Derek Jeter, you can even have Pujols. I'll take Scott Rolen as the best all-around player in baseball. Walt Jocketty's "best of" list has to include acquiring Rolen for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith and Mike Timlin in July of 2002.

S is for Spiezio- This year's version of Abraham Nunez. "Speezer" was taken off of the scrap heap and given a prominent role on the team. First place isn't the Cardinals' if Spiezio isn't on the team.

T is for Tyler Johnson- By default; Johnson was thrown into way too many crucial situations. With Ricardo Rincon out from the beginning of the year, Jocketty had plenty of time to find a compliment to Randy Flores other than Johnson. Johnson is going to be a major league reliever, but he's not ready for a major role in a contending bullpen, yet.

U is for Uggla- Florida's Dan Uggla, Washington's Ryan Zimmerman, and Chris Duncan are going to make this year's Rookie of the Year voting extremely close. Because he's a rule five draft pick, and because everybody seems to love the Marlins, Uggla wins by a nose.

V is for Victories- not enough of them.

W is for Wainwright- Again, in Jocketty's "best of" category (Wainwright, Ray King and Jason Marquis for JD Drew and Eli Marrero), Wainwright was the first player in major league history to win his first major league game in the same game that he homered facing his first major league pitch.

X is for X-Ray- Cardinals third string catcher Mike Rose is an ex-Tampa Bay Devil Ray, and that's about all you're gonna get on the letter X.

Y is for Youth- Yadier Molina, Chris Duncan, Wainwright and Anthony Reyes are already on the club, and prospects such as outfielder Colby Rasmus (most likely in AAA by the end of 2007) on the horizon, things don't seem to be as bad as they used to be for the future of the team.

Z is for Zero- As much as I love the team, and as optimistic as I try to be, I still think the Cardinals have zero chance of winning the World Series in 2006.

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