Bumbling Birds let Reds into race
By Bernie Miklasz / ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
In this crazy season of chutes and ladders, the Cardinals seem determined to drive their passionate fan base totally mad. The Cardinals' bizarre, outer-limits, Alice in Wonderland futility against the Cubs has reached comical proportions.
We're seeing smart Cardinals do remarkably dumb things in the field, on the bases and in the batter's box. Suddenly the Cardinals are incapable of executing basic fundamentals, as if this match at Wrigley marks the first time they've stepped onto a baseball field.
We're seeing a pitching staff turn John Mabry into David Ortiz. We're seeing Tony La Russa make Dusty Baker look like a Hall of Fame manager. In normal circumstances, Baker is the ineffective leader being run out of Chicago by livid fans and media. But the Cardinals show up, and Baker is Casey Stengel and the 1951 Yankees going against Hack Taylor and the St. Louis Browns (52-102). Who knows? The Cubs may retain Baker so they can continue to humiliate their arch-rivals from St. Louis.
(OK, I know I wrote about the Cardinals getting bullied by the Cubs in Saturday's column. I'm sorry to revisit the subject again, but even your neighborhood columnist wanted to throw things at the TV set the last couple of days and is in need of venting. So pardon my redundancy and thanks for your tolerance.) Advertisement
Cardinals fans can only hope that Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols will break out their award-winning form Sunday afternoon at Wrigley, rock Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs, and restore order to the baseball universe. The Cubs are the third-worst team in the majors, right? Derrek Lee is out, no?
The real fallout from the horror show at Wrigley is this: The Cardinals are allowing the Cincinnati Reds to have a shot at the division title. Like many baseball fans, I've flip-flopped on the Reds, who are an extreme up-and-down team. But the Reds have won 10 of their last 15 games and trail the Cardinals by 3 1/2.
I keep hearing pundits insist that the Cardinals have the better team and will dispose of the Reds. I'm still buying into that premise, but it's also true that the Reds have advanced their cause with recent maneuvers.
Cincy general manager Wayne Krivsky's small-headline deal to acquire closer Eddie Guardardo from Seattle's doghouse is achieving the desired results; he's recorded six saves with a 1.04 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. The controversial, big-headline trade with Washington added a quality middle reliever in lefty Bill Bray. The other reliever picked up in that transaction, Gary Majewski, has struggled but will pitch better. Overall, the Reds' bullpen is sharper. It isn't awesome, but it's no longer awful, either.
What about starting pitching? That was an advantage for the Cardinals, but right now the Reds' rotation is deeper. The Reds rank fourth in the NL in starter ERA; the Cardinals are No. 7. And the Reds' offense is superior, ranking third in runs, first in homers, first in combined onbase-slugging percentage and third in steals. The Cardinals' lineup still is plagued by inconsistency. We've seen them shut down too many times lately. The Reds are a weak defensive team, ranking 21st in the majors in defensive efficiency by Baseball Prospectus, so the Cardinals maintain a clear edge in that category.
I'm not saying the Reds will win the NL Central. But by bumbling away the first three games at Wrigley, the Cardinals are giving the Reds an opportunity. All of a sudden, that four-game set between the Cardinals and Reds that starts in Cincinnati on Aug. 7 looms as a compelling series. The Cardinals also play three against Reds in St. Louis from Aug 15-17.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals also play the Cubs six times in August.