The Five Hole with Game Time's Chris Gift

Caution: Blatant homerism, blind loyalty, and eternal optimism ahead.

Entering the series with the Reds, the Cardinals rest in second place in the always-mediocre National League Central.

The Cardinals' 24-30 record going into this series would put the team no higher than fourth place in any of the other five divisions. The team has a very, very good Milwaukee club ahead of them, and with the exception of Pittsburgh, the other three teams in the division are train wrecks.

The Astros recently ended a 10 game losing streak with consecutive wins over the Reds and Cardinals, followed by losing the final two games against the Cardinals last weekend.

The Cubs made headlines by not suspending two players for fighting in the dugout during their game Friday, but did get their manager suspended for kicking dirt on an umpire in their game on Saturday.

I could go on and on about the disaster that the Cincinnati Reds are, but at best, the Reds will leave St. Louis 11 games under .500 and it isn't even Fathers' Day yet.

The team is in a terrible division, and with a little luck, help is on the way to the pitching staff.

The starting pitching, as patchwork as it is, has been better than can be expected. With the exception of a pitcher who shares a name with a main character from Napoleon Dynamite (no, not former Met, Rico Brogna) and a recently demoted flat-billed hat-wearing pitcher, the other starters have been done the job well.

Chris Carpenter, who has the 2005 Cy Young Award at his house, has pitched in one game this season. The team is doing the correct thing in not rushing him back. We have seen Carpenter dominate when healthy. We've chalked up wins just by seeing Carpenter's name as the scheduled starter. While not wanting to be overly optimistic, Carpenter going from April to mid-August without throwing a pitch should help the team in the stretch run.

Speaking of dominant pitchers that are injured. Mark Mulder will be back sooner than we realize it too. Mulder, who had a record of 97-50 entering last season, adds a few things.

He'll add a fresh, repaired arm. He'll add experience, and he'll be able to put one of the current starters back to the bullpen. And he's a lefty. Hopefully the rest of the league hits as poorly against Mulder as the Cardinals hit other lefties.

Take those two; add former relievers Braden Looper, Adam Wainwright and Brad Thompson, and the rotation isn't all that bad. If the team makes the playoffs ("Playoffs? Playoffs?"), and the five-man rotation goes down to four, instead of doing what a team normally does and either hide a starter in the bullpen, or leave one of the starters off of the postseason roster (like Jason Marquis last season, and Jeff Suppan for the NLDS in 2004) one goes to the bullpen, where all three have succeeded.

Here's the other thing: the Cardinals took two of three at Houston without Scott Rolen, or Chris Duncan. David Eckstein is continuing to sacrifice his body for the team, and once again is banged up, but the team is starting to win.

Six games under .500 isn't that big of a deal. Catching Milwaukee shouldn't be all that difficult either. If the team gets hot and keeps splitting or winning series like it did on the last road trip, there's no doubt to think we won't be involved in yet another Red October.

Sure, there are reasons to worry. This is Looper's first go round as a starter, and the team is banking on two rehabilitated pitchers…and in Carpenter's case, this is his second major rehab, to be the major additions to the club at the trade deadline.

The starting catcher is out indefinitely, and the club's solution to the problem is a Gary Bennett, Kelly Stinnett platoon. Yadier Molina has not only turned into the best of the three Molina brothers, but also arguably the second most important Cardinal position player. His loss is huge, but winning in spite of his injury is a must for the team.

Jim Edmonds has started to hit, but how long will that last. Scott Rolen had a scare with a potential concussion from running into Dmitri Young last Sunday, but now has a strained hamstring. How long will that linger?

Albert Pujols is hitting, as usual. Like not knowing which lanes go where on Highway 40, and meth coming from Jefferson County, it seems that Albert's MVPish numbers are just a part of the way things are here in St. Louis.

Let's hope this isn't being too optimistic, but believe it or not the playoffs aren't out of reach.

Contact: gift@stlouisgametime.com

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