More time passed since my last post than I had intended, and the outlook has changed considerably since then. With my last post, Mitchell Boggs had just taken the closer reigns from Ryan Franklin, and the Cardinals were just starting to show some signs of life. As it stands today, they are atop the NL Central (tallest midget, some would say) and at times look like a serious contender in the NL. Boggs has given way to Eduardo Sanchez as the "head" of the closer committee, although we've also seen Trever Miller and Fernando Salas close things out.
We've also seen the first installment of the I-55 rivalry for 2011 - a time that is always a little tense in my household (as my wife is a huge Cubs fan). The Cards took 2 of 3, which -- and I don't mean this as anymore than a statement of fact in terms of the Cubs -- is the minimum you'd expect given the start of both teams. The sad fact of the matter, for Cubs fans, is that the team just isn't very good. There is some hope for the future as the Cubs continue to fill the gaps with young talent from the farm system. Geo Soto and Starlin Castro have both settled in as fixtures in the lineup, and while it is too early to proclaim him the real deal just yet, Darwin Barney is looking like the type of player that might hold down 2B for a couple of years. Tyler Colvin has struggled to start the year, and may earn a trip back to AAA Iowa, but playing behind the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Pena means that either ineffectiveness or injury is likely going to give you a shot sometime soon. The young pitchers are also starting to gel a bit -- Samardzija is starting to develop something useful besides his fastball and Andy Cashner looks like a top 3 starter (and is getting closer to coming off the DL). So while 2011 looks like another "wait for next year" type of season, the tide may be turning.
Of course, you can't talk about the series in Chicago without mentioning "The Hug". During batting practice prior to the first game of the series, Cubs GM Jim Hendry and Pujols greeted each other with a hug.Many a hopeful Cubs fan decided that this was just the latest sign that Pujols would ditch the Cardinals to sign with the Cubs. The Cubs also have several big contracts coming off the books and would be able to offer the huge contract that Pujols is looking for. It would certainly be a coup for the Cubs to sign the megastar player away from their rivals, but this would be a terrible move on several fronts.
First off, Pujols isn't going to the Cubs for any less than he's demanding of the Cards. You needn't look any further than left field at Wrigley to understand why you don't give a player in his 30's a lengthy free agent deal. Plus, with all of the contracts coming off the books, the Cubs are going to have a few holes to fill. Even if Pujols took money over than winning, who are you putting at 3rd? Right Field? What about the rotation? Obviously, I'm far from unbiased, but I really don't see it happening, and if it does, I think it would be yet another signal that Cubs management just doesn't get it.
The Cardinals left Chicago and rolled into Cincinnati ready to take on the Reds. The Reds have been a bit of an enigma this season. They started out the season looking like a powerhouse, then came back to earth. But with Cueto and Bailey back in the rotation and Scott Rolen returning to face his former team, the Reds are poised to take the lead in the NL Central if they can sweep the Cards. Friday's game was one that has become typical of this rivalry as the Cards jumped out to the early lead only to having the Reds continue to hang around until Joey Votto's walk off single in the 10th. The remaining two games in this series should prove to be equally as dramatic.