St. Louis running out of time

St. Louis running out of time

St. Louis running out of time
July 24th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The St. Louis Cardinals are running out of time to try to make a run at the National League Central crown. The Cardinals are still five games below .500 (45-50) and have gone just 5-5 since the All-Star break. St. Louis trails the Brewers by 8 /12 games and cannot afford to fall any further behind at this point in the season. The Cardinals' season could very easily be decided by the end of this week, as they will play seven straight games versus the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers. If St. Louis can come out on top in each of these series, it will be back in the race in both the division and the wild card. However, if the Cardinals come up short in either series, it could be the end of the road for St. Louis.

The Cardinals are coming off a four-game series split with the Atlanta Braves. St. Louis was pounded in Thursday night's opener, losing 10-1. The Cardinals did manage to bounce back in Friday night's contest, beating the Braves 4-2. Starter Adam Wainwright pitched a gem, allowing just one run on six hits through seven innings. The Cardinals bullpen took it from there, culminating in Jason Isringhausen's 19th save of the season. St. Louis also showed some spark at the plate, collecting 11 hits in the win. Albert Pujols led the attack, going 2-for-3 with a homerun and an RBI.

St. Louis suffered a letdown in Saturday night's contest, falling 14-6. Right-hander Braden Looper was hammered in the loss, surrendering seven runs on 10 hits through just 2 2/3 innings. However, the Cardinals did rebound to capture a 7-2 win in Sunday's finale. Starter Brad Thompson led the way, allowing just two runs over six innings, but is was Isringhausen who walked away with the win. The cardinals closer pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth inning on the way to his fourth win of the season. The Cardinals relied on the long ball for runs, as Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Skip Schumaker all homered in the victory.


Starter Mike Maroth will be available out of the bullpen this week should the Cardinals need a long-inning replacement. The move comes in response to the bullpen's overuse during the Atlanta series. The Cardinals bullpen was forced to pitch 14 1/3 innings during the four-game set and is in need of a rest. Maroth made his last start on Thursday night against Atlanta and is not scheduled to make his next start until Friday night's game against Milwaukee. The southpaw will be available if the Cardinals run into trouble in the early innings and need a long-inning reliever. If Maroth is not called upon he will make his scheduled start on Friday.

Maroth has struggled during his last three starts going 0-3, while surrendering 17 runs on 25 hits. However, the lefty remains confident that he can solve the problem and make a positive contribution to the starting rotation.

"At this point, it's about making an adjustment," Maroth said. "That's the biggest thing. You look at the whole picture, and that's what it comes down to. This game is all about adjustments. It has been all the way through the Minors. I've been able to make them before, and I'm at a point where I need to make another one."

Maroth is not the only new face in the Cardinals bullpen, as the team also called up righty Kelvin Jimenez. Jimenez will take the place of southpaw Troy Cate, who saw limited action during his short stay in the majors.


St. Louis has reached an agreement with shortstop Pete Kozma, who was the team's first selection in this year's draft. Kozma, who was the Oklahoma High School Player of the Year, was drafted by the Cardinals with the 18th overall selection. The shortstop hit .522 as a senior with 11 home runs and 14 stolen bases and passed up a scholarship to Wichita State University to sign with the Cardinals.

Kozma's early signing will allow the Cardinals to designate him to a minor league affiliate with more than a month to play in the season. By signing Kozma the Cardinals have now locked up each of their top five draft picks in the 2007 draft.


Righthander Mark Mulder is inching closer to a return after another successful bullpen session on Friday afternoon. Mulder, who has missed all of this season with a shoulder injury, threw 75 pitches including breaking balls and change-ups. This marks the first time that the right-hander has been able to throw any type of breaking pitch since his surgery in 2006.

Mulder is recovering from a rotator cuff surgery that has sidelined him since September of 2006. Although his return is still weeks away, the Cardinals are hoping that Mulder will be able to pitch a simulated game in the near future. Pitching coach Dave Duncan wants to see how Mulder responds to different hitters.

"I would recommend doing that pretty soon," Duncan said. "But he's got to feel comfortable. We'll be back home the next time he throws. I'm going to talk to him between now and then, and see just how close he thinks he is to being ready to face hitters. If he is, then we'll do it."

While Mulder continues to improve, staff ace Chris Carpenter has taken a step backwards in his recovery. The right-hander will be forced to undergo another elbow surgery that will ultimately end his season. Carpenter, who injured his elbow on opening night, will now undergo Tommy John surgery, which could keep him out until mid-way through the 2008 season.

Carpenter did make a short return this season, starting two minor league games, but was forced back onto the DL after his elbow began to swell. The final decision came down after doctors spent most of last week discussing Carpenter's options. For now the Cardinals are much more concerned with the health of their teammate than the affects his absence will have on the club.

"We are so much more concerned for him than we are for us," said La Russa. "Chris is a stallion. He's a prince. Being at the top of that rotation, taking the responsibility, competing, when you have talent like that. ... He eats his heart out when he misses a little bit. And to have to go through a rehab, we really are more concerned that he get through it and he handle it."


Pujols is back in MVP form, going 15-for-35 at the plate over his last 10 games. During that time Pujols has six home runs, eight RBI, 11 runs scored and just four strikeouts. On the season he is batting .322 with 22 home runs and 60 RBI.


Looper has been awful for the better part of two months, going just 2-6 over his last 10 starts. He has given up 23 runs over his last five games and has more walks than strikeouts over his last 10 outings. His recent funk has dropped his record to 7-8 record on the year with a 5.09 ERA.


The Cardinals will welcome the Chicago Cubs to town for a three-game set from Busch Stadium. Kip Wells (4-12, 5.75) will take on Carlos Zambrano (12-7, 3.69) in Tuesday night's opener. Wednesday night's contest will feature a showdown between Wainwright (9-7, 4.18) and Ted Lilly (10-4, 3.58), before Looper (7-8, 5.09) and Jason Marquis (7-5, 3.92) square off in Thursday night's finale.

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