Since the new millennium, the Cardinals have won the Central Division title six times (*01, 02, 04, 05, 06) in nine seasons, the National League Pennant twice (04, 06) and the World Championship once, in 2006.
Their distinguished opponents in today's key battle in St. Louis, the Atlanta Braves, have won the National League Eastern Division title six times (2000, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05), and had actually won their division for 11 straight seasons, dating back to 1995.
While the Braves have had their problems making it deep into the playoffs of late, their last World Series title coming in 1995 and their last National League Pennant dates back to 1999, in a decade when they won five NL pennants.
The Braves began this season, like most, were picked to win the National League East but such notable sportswriters as; Jason Stark, Peter Gammons, Buster Olney and publications like, the Sporting News, while the Cardinals fell completely out of favor with the nation's baseball pundits and baseball industry publications.
So when you consider the matchup in today's game at Busch Stadium, with one team 13 games above .500 (72-59) and other, 16 games below the .500 mark (57-73), it must come as a big surprise to most, that it is the Cardinals with the winning record, still in the hunt for another trip to the postseason playoffs.
No two teams in baseball have been devastated more by injuries this season, than the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves.
Cardinals fans are all too familiar with their team's losses, among the pitchers; Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Adam Wainwright, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney and even Jason Isringhausen. Among the everyday players, Juan Encarnacion, Chris Duncan both out for the season, with other players like Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Adam Kennedy and Rick Ankiel missing playing time this season, due to injuries.
The Braves are no strangers to dealing with adversity; they have had 20 different players, (27 total stints) to go on the disabled bereavement list for the Braves this season.
While the Cardinals were missing RHP Chris Carpenter, the Braves have had to do without RHP John Smoltz; the Cardinals play without Mark Mulder, the Braves lose Tom Glavine; RHP Adam Wainwright misses significant playing time, the Braves lose RHP Tim Hudson for the season; the Cardinals were looking to RHP Matt Clement, the Braves were betting on RHP Mike Hampton; 3B Chipper Jones misses a couple of weeks, the Cardinals lose Albert Pujols for a couple of weeks; Braves outfielder Mark Kotsay has lower back problems misses over a month of playing time, Cardinals lose Acosta and RHP Anthony Lerew while LHP Tyler Johnson and RHP Josh Kinney are still trying to make it back to the show.
Both of these teams have been devastated by injuries, certainly one could understand both of them finishing the 2008 campaign with losing seasons, for the Braves it's a given, considering they are 17 games below the .500 mark. The season for them is over basically, or at least any hopes for a playoff berth, but don't expect them to lay down for anyone down the stretch, they are too proud of a team, an organization, to do that.
For the Cardinals, they are sill in the hunt for a red October, starting the day, 13 games above the .500 mark. Their play this season has thus far exceeded any expectations, (other than Brian Walton and myself, who picked them to finish second in the NL Central). The Cardinals ability to withstand adversity, with a patch work rotation & bullpen, and an ever changing lineup, has been extraordinary. The managing job of Tony La Russa to date is his best in my opinion, in his Hall of Fame career.
Much credit for this season must go to the Cardinals' ownership, the Cardinals new GM John Mozeliak and Vice President of Player Development Jeff Luhnow. It is through their dedication and efforts, that the Cardinals have had the pieces to plug in the holes, to turn, what was once considered a season in transition, a toss in the towel in July season, if you will, into one of the most exciting seasons in recent history.
I'm not saying the Cardinals are going to catch the Cubs, or even get past Milwaukee, but I still like their chances to win the National League Wild Card, but as you watch the Atlanta Braves leave town, 16 or 18 games below .500, there but by the grace of the Cardinals ownership, management and the shear heart, determination and talent of the St. Louis Cardinals players, could have been the Cardinals and their fans, looking at a losing season this year.
Games still to be played that mean something, I think I'll have another cup of Joe, and get ready for Sunday afternoon baseball at Busch Stadium. Go Cards, and a little help from Pittsburgh today would be nice.
*In 2001, the Cardinals and the Houston Astros finished the season with identical records of 93-69 and finished tied for first place in the Central Division standings. Both teams were awarded a co-championship. According to MLB, this was the "the first shared championship in major-league history". For playoff seeding, the NL Central slot went to Houston and St. Louis was awarded the wild card berth.
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