A friend of mine suffered a bad fall and broke his ankle in three or four places, sometime over the winter. I saw him just this past weekend, up and around finally, after weeks of being propped up in front of daytime TV, and weeks more of hobbling on crutches. He always has a ready smile, but it seemed much brighter now that he was among the living.
He's a painter by trade, and while his injury was a major setback for him, physically, it was a strange time, emotionally as well. Houses continued to get painted, and thanks to workman's comp, his family continued to have food on the table. In many ways, life went on perfectly normally without him.
It can be an unsettling feeling for us, to discover that we can't all be so important as major league ballplayers.
Chris Carpenter lamed up just as the Cardinals were building some early momentum. Our starting pitchers have earned just a handful of wins since then. Rick Ankiel played chicken with the outfield wall and lost, and now Ryan Ludwick is hobbled, and suddenly the potency of the league's leading offense is gone.
Over the last five games (not counting Friday's rainout), the Cardinals put up the following line: .205 / .251 / .279. Only four extra-base hits from players not named Pujols, and one of those was a double by Mitchell Boggs. Boggs also held the distinction of being the only starter to pitch with a lead, but couldn't get enough outs to qualify for the big red W. Ironically, he was the man sent down in anticipation of Carpenter's return.
"This is the lineup we've got," repeated manager Tony La Russa to the press, after saying it to his team, "and we can win with this lineup." There's no arguing the first part of his statement.
So far this lineup that we've got has one win in five tries, and has seen the team fall behind both the Brewers and Cubs in the standings. St. Louis hosts both teams in the coming week for a combined four games. It would be a good time for the Redbirds to put some truth to the second half of their manager's declaration.
"A Pitcher in the Wilderness"
Coming into the spring, Todd Wellemeyer was the latest success story for Dave Duncan – the latest pitcher to be turned from essentially nothing into a reliable rotation asset.
Drafted by the Cubs, bartered to the Marlins, foisted upon the Royals, and then released. Is there a worse entry into the major leagues?
The Cardinals front office then took pity on him. They bundled him up, pinned a note to his chest reading "Please, do what you can," dropped him at Duncan's doorstep, rang the doorbell and ran.
This was 2007, the worst pitching year in more than a century of Cardinals baseball. Duncan was already neck-deep in reclamation projects when Wellemeyer arrived, and whether he saw something he liked or was just testing spaghetti against the wall, Duncan decided to give the failed reliever a new job – as a starter.
Since then, says Wellemeyer in a recent USA Today feature: "He re-taught me to pitch, and now I have a curve, slider, cutter, two-seamer, change, four-seam, and I'm working on a splitter." And not without a little success, either. Before this year, he was 16-11 in nearly 250 innings as a starter, pitching a full run and a half better than his career ERA.
However, this year he appears to be fighting himself. In three starts he's looked as good as he ever has – going seven innings strong in each, allowing a combined five runs and earning three wins. And in the four others, he's looked as bad as he ever was.
After his latest bout of wildness – seven walks and two hit batsmen in 5 2/3 innings – Rick Hummel described him as "a pitcher in the wilderness." Wellemeyer has been here before. Hopefully he can find his way out.
Barring more horizontal rain, the Cards will play seven games against the Brewers (1), Cubs (3) and new-look Royals (3). Carpenter's return from the DL is slated for the start of interleague play.
The Cubs have been riding a hot streak, winning each of their games last week except for a one-run loss Sunday. The bats have been wicked hot, even the one held by Derrek Lee and his strained neck. He went 4-for-5 with a home run Sunday. These aren't your old swing-and-miss Cubs, either. Lou's bunch has been better than average in the patience department, and will be more than happy to wait and see if our pitchers have figured themselves out.
The story of the Royals thus far has been their pitching, notably the emergence of Zach Greinke as the most unlikely dominant force in pitching since all 160 pounds of Pedro Martinez hit the league. Joe Posnanski published a fascinating writeup of Greinke in SI, that portrays his mind as an obstacle between his ability and his potential.
As someone who suffers from the occasional creative funk, the portrait rings perfectly true.
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