ESPN featured the Cardinals at home against the Phillies on Monday night and it was one of the first times this Fan has had a chance to watch the Cardinals play. They are thoroughly entertaining as a ball club. Long-time readers know that Tony LaRussa has never been one of the Fans favorite managers. But there is a grudging respect as he plays each game to win, he doesn't do things solely by the book and he has no problems letting kids play.
And that's what makes the Cardinals so entertaining. They have some good young players in John Jay and Allen Craig that follow in the footsteps of the terrific 23 year old Colby Rasmus. Rasmus has been amazing and is currently sporting a gaudy 139 OPS+. He has already tied his 2009 season output for homers and is just four behind last year's total in doubles. He plays well in the outfield and will steal some bases. The only knock on him is that his strikeouts are too high.
But John Jay looks like a ballplayer. He is quiet in his batting approach, goes to all fields and explodes into the ball. In the Monday night game, he hit two opposite field doubles. Jay also looks comfortable in the outfield. He's just a really good looking player.
According to the broadcasters for ESPN, LaRussa is even higher on Allen Craig, another kid they drafted just a few years ago. Craig has done nothing but kill the ball in the minors since he was drafted and though he got off to a slow start, he drove in the winning runs on Sunday and hit his first major league homer on Monday night.
Contrast LaRussa with some other long-standing managers with his willingness to give young guys a shot. Look how long it took Piniella to get Colvin in the lineup regularly. But here is the thing: Jay, at least, looks ready for the majors now. But there is a logjam in the Cardinals' outfield once Ludwick gets back. You aren't going to replace Holliday or Rasmus and Ludwick is firmly established. But the Cardinals do have some holes. Shortstop seems to be one of the biggest ones.
Brendan Ryan had a decent year last year batting .292. But if you put his whole package together, he still ended up with a 96 OPS+ last year. This year has been just brutal for the young shortstop as he can't seem to get over the Mendoza line. He is a decent fielder with some speed, but he just doesn't look like he'll ever be much of a major league hitter. The shortstop position has been a weak one for the Cardinals for several years now. The Fan isn't real high on Schumaker either, but LaRusa loves him, so the Fan will let that one be.
The Fan tried to play GM and see what shortstops could be had that could help. You know, there isn't much out there. The only trade that seems to make sense would be to send Ryan Ludwick and Brendan Ryan to the Diamondbacks for Stephen Drew. Whoa! That's a pretty cool trade. Drew seems to have hit a wall in Arizona. He just hasn't hit his stride there. Perhaps a change of scenery would help him. He would be a better shortstop than the Cardinals have had in a long time. With Jay and Craig, Ludwick is expendable.
As for the Diamondbacks, Gerardo Parra and Conor Jackson just haven't panned out and Ludwick would be an upgrade there. Hey, it could work.
But even if the Cardinals do not get a shortstop, they are the team to beat in the NL Central and they play an exciting and upbeat game with good pitching and the best hometown fans in baseball. If you haven't gotten a chance to see these guys play, do it soon. Heck, Pujols showed on Monday night that he's ready to have a monster second half, so that alone is worth the time.