Piece by piece, the Cardinals have built an enduring, winning team nucleus around Albert Pujols.CUBS...completely useless by September.
Adam Wainwright developed into a front-line starting pitcher to ride shotgun with Chris Carpenter. Yadier Molina blossomed into an All-Star catcher who handles pitchers, shuts down the running game and adds some offense.
Brendan Ryan is becoming a spectacular everyday defensive shortstop with a lively bat. Leadoff hitter Skip Schumaker is making a seamless transition to second base.
Rookie Colby Rasmus is breaking in as a strong defensive center fielder with huge offensive potential. Kyle McClellan has become a durable and reliable set-up man in the bullpen.
All these players, groomed within this organization, are pieces the team can build upon. Cardinal Nation takes strong player development for granted -– given this team’s perennial contention -- but building such a winning nucleus is difficult.[...]
The key, Tony La Russa believes, is to break in young players a few at a time and surround them with veterans playing the right way.
Mike Matheny helped groom Molina. Jason Isringhausen schooled Wainwright as a reliever and Chris Carpenter showed him the way as a starter.
Position players like Ryan, Schumaker and Rasmus can follow the lead of Albert Pujols, the sport’s best player.
It is too early to say that David Freese, Jaime Garcia, Tyler Greene or P.J. Walters will make the nucleus some day, but they have already benefited from their opportunity to play with this group.
The Chicago Cubs are going, going . . . gone?I didn't watch their game last night til late in the game but believe me, I heard about the Victorino beer incident. If that's not a lack of class by Cubs fans, then I don't know what is.
The Small Bears have lost six of their last seven games. This swoon coincided with a Cardinals surge, so suddenly the North Siders are four games off the National League Central pace.
Ace Cub pitchers Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano are on the disabled list. So is outfielder Reed Johnson.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, this team’s offensive catalyst, is trying to play through a chronic shoulder injury. There is no end to this team’s misery.
The team seems cursed, again, as Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey wrote:
“Chances are, if Ramirez has to dive for a grounder when he returns, he not only will reinjure his dislocated shoulder but break a leg in the process. That’s the theme of this season, isn’t it? Not necessarily that the Cubs have been done in by injuries, though you certainly could make that argument, but that bad things just happen to this club. If it’s not one thing, it’s the other, unless it’s both. A Ramirez injury become a Carlos Zambrano meltdown. A Milton Bradley meltdown becomes a Geovany Soto slump. If Ryan Dempster isn’t hurt, then Ted Lilly is.”
Chris Carpenter keeps throwing...
In improving his record to 12-3, Carpenter went seven innings, allowed two runs and struck out 10. In making a spectacular comeback from two seasons of arm miseries, Carpenter can't be ruled out of the National League Cy Young race. The same is true of teammate Adam Wainwright, who has 13 wins and a 2.73 ERA.
This isn't about one golden arm. Here's your stat of the day: Since July 1, the Cardinals are 20-3 in games started by Carpenter, Wainwright and Joel Piñeiro.
They're forming the most formidable top three in a St. Louis rotation since 1985. In a summer of speed and defense, John Tudor, Joaquin Andujar and Danny Cox combined for 60 wins, 16 shutouts and 34 complete games.
It's impossible to compare eras and statistics. Complete games and shutouts have given way to the late-inning toggling of matchup relievers, so the '09 Cardinals can't measure up to the '85 starters in iron-man numbers. Starting pitchers aren't built for durability. They aren't asked to go the distance.
But there is some common ground on that mound.
The 1985 Cardinals won 63 percent of the games started by Tudor, Andujar and Cox. And in 2009, the Cardinals have won 63 percent of the games started by Carpenter, Wainwright and Piñeiro.
And there's a relative match in ERAs. In Tudor (1.93), Cox (2.88) and Andujar (3.40) the '85 Cardinals had frontline starters ranked No. 2, No. 8 and No. 19 in the league in ERA. In Carpenter (2.29), Wainwright (2.73) and Piñeiro (3.22) the 2009 Cardinals have top-level starters ranked No. 2, No. 6 and No. 13 in league ERA.