Cheap Seats

Cardinals still alive and kicking in NL Central

While it looked for a while like the Reds might not lose another game this season, suddenly they dropped a contest here and there while the Cardinals are heating up.

A week ago, it looked like the Birds might be brushed aside. But, suddenly, there are signs that the defending World Series champions have suddenly found their sense of urgency and have applied nose to grindstone.

What had bulged to an eight game deficit has been shrunk down to six games. And, if the Cardinals continue to play as they are capable, I do not believe that it is beyond their reach to overtake Cincinnati and avoid the peril of a one and done berth as a playoff wildcard.

I’ve received a lot of flak from Cincinnati fans online. They’ve already crowned their team, which last won a World Series when recently retired skipper Lou Piniella was a young manager taking over the helm of the Reds from convicted felon Pete Rose, the new kings of baseball.

But I’d like to remind them that trophies aren’t passed out in August. And, actually, the Redbirds are in much better position now than they were at the same time last year.

Indeed, the Birds, winners of 13 of their last 17 games, seem to be once again getting hot at the right time. They’re 11 games over .500 for the first time this season and find themselves in excellent position to impose their will on the Central Division race. After their series with the Giants, they go to Philadelphia for a three-game set with the tattered Phillies. Then they come home to play Arizona and the first of six August games against the Pirates. The Cardinals play three at home against the Astros, one of the worst teams in baseball in recent memory, and then the go to Cincinnati and the road portion of their matches against the Reds.

In a stretch of 17 games out of 20 being played at home, the Birds must make their move now. If they can gain a game a week on the Reds, they'd be two out by the end of August with the season finale to be played against Cincinnati Oct. 1-3 at Busch Stadium. And in between the Birds would have series at home against the fading Brewers, on the road against second division San Diego and the Dodgers, six games against the Astros and three against the Dempsterless (trade) and Garzaless (injury) Cubs.

Winning the division is definitely still doable. In fact, it's about 10 times more plausible this season than what happened last year was.

While the Cardinals will be without Chris Carpenter the rest of the season, the reports on lefty starter Jaime Garcia are very good. He seems on pace to return to the big league club in about 10 days which will boost the rotation and also the bullpen. Joe Kelly, who has been very effective as a starter, will likely become the righty early innings bullpenner when Garcia returns.

The Birds also seem to have been boosted by the addition of Edward Mujica in trade with the Marlins. Mujica has been perfect in red. And it’s nice to have a righty coming out of the ‘pen who is capable of avoiding walks.

On the offensive side, Skip Schumaker and Daniel Descalso have done a great job of picking up walking wounded shortstop Rafael Furcal both in the field and in the lead-off spot of the batting order.

All in all, this team is really starting to pull together. Lets just hope it can stay healthy and keep chipping away at its division deficit.

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