|World Series champions still lurking heading into 2nd half|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 09 July 2007 06:48|
The defending World Series champions, he predicted, were going to be a team to watch in the second half. The All-Star break would only delay the momentum.
``This is a big turning point for us, I feel like,'' Wainwright said. ``We're starting to get on a roll.''
The Cardinals wrapped up the first half by losing two of three to the Giants, who won only their second road series of the year.
The first half of the season has been a maddening mix of injuries and inconsistencies, fits and starts, for a team that has seemed to surge several times only to quickly stumble back into the pack.
Ace Chris Carpenter has been out since opening day because of an elbow injury that required surgery to remove bone spurs; Jim Edmonds, David Eckstein, Juan Encarnacion, Yadier Molina and Tyler Johnson have all missed extended time.
The Cardinals fell 10 games behind NL Central-leading Milwaukee on May 21, trailed by as many as 10 1/2 games in late June and are 7 1/2 games out of first place at the break.
``This is not the world championship team,'' said Scott Rolen, who has only four homers at the break after hitting 22 last year. ``You look on the field and you don't see a lot of guys we had last year.
``We haven't performed, haven't achieved, haven't played very well.''
One sign of the tough times: A fan suggested on manager Tony La Russa's weekly call-in show that slumping second baseman Adam Kennedy might benefit from taking the rest of the year off, and La Russa saw merit.
``If you take a month off, how do you do that?'' La Russa said after the show. ``If a guy says 'OK, I don't need money for a month?'
``But I think it's interesting, very creative.''
The only consistent area has been a bullpen led by Jason Isringhausen, who has 17 saves in 19 chances and a 1.53 ERA after recovering from hip surgery that knocked him out of the postseason, and nearly spotless setup man Ryan Franklin. Franklin has been so impressive, he earned a two-year contract extension last week.
The offense has been spotty. Power numbers are way down for Albert Pujols, who has not homered in 74 at-bats over 22 games, both career-long droughts. Rolen, supposedly finally past shoulder surgery that led to friction with La Russa last fall, has only four home runs after belting 22 last year.
Yet there's plenty of optimism heading into the second half, starting with a 10-game trip that begins in Philadelphia on Friday.
Carpenter is expected back soon, a huge boost for a makeshift rotation that at times has featured four former career relievers. Eckstein could return from a back injury for the start of the trip. The midseason break should help Edmonds mend from back and leg woes, and he should be patrolling center field by end of the month.
At its peak, the nucleus of this roster produced two World Series appearances in a three-year span from 2004-06, consecutive 100-win seasons in 2004 and 2005 and the franchise's first title in 24 years last fall. That championship run came after an 83-win season featuring a second half similar to the first half this year.
La Russa takes solace in the fact it could have been worse, noting the Cardinals easily could be buried 15 or 20 games below .500 instead of only five.
``Every time we got hit with something, these guys have hung in there,'' La Russa said. ``We've got enough wins that somehow, some way, we've got a chance.''