Tony LaRussa must be having that familiar feeling right about now. You know, that certain feeling you get when you know all the world is about to come down on you and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
It's the same feeling he got last season when Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter went down in the first game and never came back. The same feeling he got when Mark Mulder, their prize acquisition for Dan Haren (great trade), never lived up to the potential and is now the new Kerry Wood of the NL Central.
Yes that same feeling has come back again for another round. This time, with star slugger Albert Pujols.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know when a star player is hurting. Pujols' injuries go all the way back to last season, when he put up 32 HRs and just 103 RBI. Not bad for any ball player, but not great by Pujols' standards.
While he carried his streak of 30+ HRs and 100 RBI into a seventh season, any fan in Busch Stadium could tell he was hurting. The Cardinals were just one game out of first place last September, but Pujols' knee and shoulder were constantly giving him trouble. When the Cardinals found themselves out of playoff contention for the first time in years, the 78-84 Cards shut Pujols down and knew it was the end of NL Central domination.
And the beginning of Pujols' injuries.
So far this spring Pujols has been troubled by bone chips, arthritis, and a torn ligament in his elbow and shoulder. Cardinals' trainers (who do just a bang up job of fixing injuries) have advised Pujols not to do any kind of surgical procedure until a full repair can be done on the injured area.
Now, I am no doctor by any means, but just how long will it be before Pujols can't swing a bat or even throw a ball around the infield? The man is obviously in great pain, and the more he tries to play through this pain, the worse the injury is going to get (Curt Schilling, 2004 playoffs for example).
The Cardinals, meanwhile, spent another offseason acquiring no help for poor Pujols, losing fan favorites David Eckstein, So Taguchi, and Jim Edmonds to free agency, and trading Scott Rolen away (about time) for another problematic 3B Troy Glaus.
Right now, more than half of the Cards lineup consists of unproven Triple A kids such as Skip Schumaker and Rick Ankiel, and guys who can't hit the ball (Kennedy). LaRussa's style of using utility players and playing the small ball has worked in the past, but that was when a healthy Edmonds, Pujols, and Rolen were jacking home runs over the left field wall in 2004-2005.
Those days are long gone, and last year's offense and record proved that.
And don't even get me started on the pitching. Dave Duncan, I hope you have some magic left to make winners out of Joel Pineiro and Matt Clement, because they're going to need all the help they can get. While Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper showed improvement last year throughout the season, you cannot possibly make a serious run to the playoffs with Wainwright as your ace.
Here's hoping Carpenter and Mulder make it back this season.
My point is this: Why not shut Pujols down now and fix the elbow? Why risk a further and potentially career-ending injury to this man? He is the beating heart of your franchise, the one attraction that keeps fans coming back to the ballpark. He's the A-Rod of St. Louis, and while I know replacing him this season would be harmful and difficult to do, think long term, not short term.
This team is not threatening to win 100 games and go back to the World Series, so what's the point? Please, keep the beating heart of your franchise going for another era of St. Louis baseball, because trust me folks, he will be back.
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