A day after wasting Chris Carpenter’s gem, the Cardinals are looking to score some more runs for their other ace. Adam Wainwright takes the mound for the Cards in a showdown with Clayton Kershaw. Wainwright will play the role of stopper for St. Louis, trying to avoid the sweep. Wainwright is 8-3 with a 2.05 ERA. Along with Carpenter and rookie Jaime Garcia, the Cards deck is full. All three could be All-Stars in a month. The offense has been holding the club back from taking off. St. Louis is tied for first place in the division with a 33-26 record. Last night was a small look at why the heavily-favored Redbirds haven’t exactly soared above the competition. The strong lineup hasn’t found its strong and every player has had tough stretches through the first two months of the year. Even Albert Pujols looked human for a little. Matt Holliday hasn’t exactly raked as expected and the role players are still trying to find themselves. Skip Schumaker has taken a step back offensively and defensively after solid play in previous years. Similarly, Brendan Ryan hasn’t been the same. While it hasn’t been smooth sailing all season, the tough games could be good for this club. If they can put it all together as summer turns to fall, they will have fought for everything. Sometimes the battle-tested team is better than the finely-tuned machine that has come out of the NL Central the past few years.
The Cubs cruised through the division in 2007 and 2008 only to be swept in each of their postseason series. The Cubbies traded roles with the Cards last year, but we all know the season ended in disappointment. The young Reds are good for the division. It adds some fire and fight to the season and gives St. Louis a challenge.
The Dodgers were in the winning dugout last year when the Cards packed their bags for winter. For a while this year, it seemed the success for L.A. was over. After two years of falling short against the Phillies in the NLCS, the Dodgers were a mess on and off the field. The McCourt’s became a punch line in baseball and it seemed even Joe Torre couldn’t motivate this team. But now, the Dodgers sit in first place in a very competitive division. The Padres have been surprising and the Giants and Rockies are lurking with some of baseball’s best arms.
The Dodgers have some big arms to rely on too. Clayton Kershaw has been good for Los Angeles in his third season in the big leagues. He is 5-3 with a 3.06 ERA. The big lefty looks to push the broom for the red-hot Dodgers tonight. He has enjoyed facing St. Louis during his short career. Kershaw is 1-0 with a 1.82 ERA in four career starts vs. St. Louis.
Offensively, Andre Ethier has struggled after his blistering start was derailed by injury. He is always a threat and could break out of his slump at any minute. While he recovers, Rafael Furcal has been a spark plug. The speedy shortstop is hitting over .400 in his last five games and looks like the old Furcal that put pressure on opposing teams with his bat. Keeping with the rebirth idea, Mannywood returned last night with Ramirez’s big hit. He isn’t quite the Manny of old, but he may still have some magic left.
The Dodgers may have some magic left too. They have unfinished business to take care of in the postseason.
So do the Cards.
Every game this summer is just a small step toward the real season. Every team is trying to find its way and build on the success and failure along the way. At the end, only one team will be standing.
The strongest team.