A team that has made something out of virtually nothing all season just received a stifling punch to the gut. As if chasing the red-hot Chicago Cubs wasn’t difficult enough, now the Cardinals will have to soldier on without their superstar 1st baseman and ace of the staff. Albert Pujols (strained calf) and Adam Wainwright (sprained finger) are on the shelf for a minimum of 3 weeks each, and have subsequently created a noticeable limp in the Cardinals run for a Central Division title.
The offense provided by Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus has been surprisingly potent to this point, but production will certainly dip without the great Pujols in the lineup. One of the reasons for the successful starts of Ludwick and Ankiel is that they are essentially a product of Pujols’ talent. Sandwiching him in the the lineup, they see a barrage of more hittable pitches (namely fastballs) due to opposing hurlers’ fear of King Albert’s looming bat. It’s not to say that the Redbirds offense can’t get it done without the big first baseman, but the task will be exponentially more difficult. Someone needs to step up in Albert’s absence and put this team on their shoulders (don’t look to Chris Duncan), or the 3.5 game deficit in the standings could easily slip to double digits by the time Pujols is healthy.
Here’s something Cardinal fans never thought they would hear: This is Ryan Ludwick’s team now.
As for the starting rotation, it’s been an effective mess of patchwork arms strewn together over the last two months. Injuries to not only Wainwright, but Joel Pineiro and the surprise of the year, Todd Wellemeyer, have caused the Redbirds to trot a number of unproven youngsters to the mound. So far the glue has been Kyle Lohse. The former Philly castoff has been marvelously effective for the Cardinals, giving the team a chance to win nearly every time out. But it’s going to take a quick recovery by Wellemeyer, some consistency from Pineiro and the Dr. Jekyll version of Braden Looper to keep this team afloat while Wainwright mends his bird-flipping finger.
This will be Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan’s greatest challenge to date. Underarmed and curse with a shortage of big name bats, they will have to work some miracles until this team gets healthy. Fortunately they are blessed with a group of ball players that seem to never say die and give it their all every time they step on the field. The infusion of youth in this organization has a lot to do with that, and it’s a comforting feeling to know that even if the Cards do slide out of contention this season, their future still looks very bright.