Move over ’64 Phillies, the ’06 Cardinals are here. In the throws of the most monumental season collapse the St. Louis Cardinals are now a meager two games up on the Huston Astros as of print time Sunday. With injuries mounting, and key players running away to hide, the Cardinals have managed to play themselves back into a playoff race. The previous benchmark for futility was the 1964 Phillies who held a six game lead with 12 to play, the Cardinals had an eight game lead with 13 to play. The portion of this story that is not being talked about is the fact that the Phillies were eventually caught by a red hot Cardinals team that won 93 games and eventually became World Series Champions. The ’06 version of this story is dealing with teams that are hovering around the .500 mark. The stats don’t lie. Of course the venerable Albert Pujols continues to produce, but Scott Rolen batting a meare .105 with zero home runs in his last 20 AB’s. Juan Encarnacion .143 and again zero homers, Yadier Molina same exact numbers. These numbers speak volumes.
Pitching hasn’t been much better, Carpenter has more than likely pitched Trevor Hoffman into the Cy Young award, and Jason Marquis has been a non-factor most of the year racking up 15 losses. With Jason Isringhausen going down for the year with hip surgery the Cardinals have no one to give the ball too late in the game.
The Astros are a different story, Morgan Ensberg has finally awoken from a 130 game slumber and the rookie Luke Scott has been the second half story. Since his call up to the Major Leagues, Scott is batting .368 in just under 200 AB’s. Houston’s strength is with the pitching staff. Oswalt, Pettite and Clemons all have minuscule ERA’s and since taking over the closer duties from Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler has been virtually untouchable. Throw all of this into the mix and you have nine straight wins and the NL Central title.
The Mets look to be in a little trouble, Pedro Martinez is out for the playoffs. The calf is not getting any better so the decision was made to shut him down until next year. Fortunately, New York still has proven playoff winners in Orlando Hernandez and Tom Glavine. However, if you take a proven winner like Pedro out of the mix and not acquiring someone like Barry Zito at the deadline, then you forfeit the NL frontrunner title.
The AL Central race is a dead heat, all tied up with three to go. The consolation prize to the loser is an all expenses paid trip to New York and a grand tour of Yankee Stadium. So, the final series for the Twins and Tigers mean the difference between getting swept in the first round by the Yankees or getting the A’s at home. The Tigers have an easier road hosting Kansas City for the final three, while the Twins get the White Sox also at home. Though the Sox haven’t been the same team since being eliminated they are still, talent wise, head and shoulders above the Royals.
Look for the Tigers this weekend to wrap up the division and welcome Oakland with open arms. Minnesota will be off to New York, with pitching like the Twins have the Yankees will not cruise past them nearly as easily.
The Central Divisions are where all the eyes will be as St. Louis puts the finishing touches on their collapse, meanwhile the Tigers and Twins slug it out for crown, either way a weekend of exciting baseball is ahead.