Peoria Journal Star's Kirk Wessler with a column from the Cubs-Cardinals game Tuesday night in St. Louis.
Methinks the headline writers at the newspaper here in St. Loo are a trifle mixed up.
"A CHANCE," the Tuesday Post-Dispatch proclaimed in big and bold type, is what the St. Louis Cardinals have to crawl back into contention in the National League Central.
This from the same, cutesy folk who ignited a Tony La Russa meltdown three months ago by declaring in the same big and bold style that the Chicago Cubs have "NO CHANCE" of ending their World Series championship drought, which we all know is bearing down on a full century.
It does not take an Einstein, or even a Cardinals manager named La Russa, to know the Redbirds were in a sinkhole of trouble, even before the Cubs beat them, 4-3, Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.
Why, even a simple Kirk could see this.
The Cardinals, six games under .500 and nine out of first place, are the only team in baseball unable to have stitched together even one four-game winning streak since May Day. Their ace pitcher, Chris Carpenter, is gone for the season. So many of their core position players are banged up that the everyday lineup changes every day.
They’re not getting timely hits (All-Star Albert Pujols was 0-for-5 Tuesday, stranded a man on third with a pop-out on the first pitch he saw in the fifth inning and bounced out to end the game with the tying run aboard). And they’re booting games (Scott Rolen’s error put the go-ahead runner on base instead of ending the seventh).
We could go on, but that would detract from the Cubs, who continue to charge after the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers.
"They’ve got a nice thing going," La Russa said of the Cubs, who are three games behind the Brew Crew. "Their young guys are doing a good job of giving them some energy."
Young guys like Ryan Theriot, who leads the Cubs in stolen bases (17) and has 17 multi-hit games this season. And Ronny Cedeno, called back from the minors and inserted as a substitute in the third inning Tuesday when Mark DeRosa had to leave with what was described as tendinitis in his hamstring.
Cedeno singled to drive in Derrek Lee with the tying run in the sixth. Theriot reached base on Rolen’s two-out error and scored the go-ahead run on a single by Aramis Ramirez, then nursed a walk and scored the winner in the ninth.
The Cubs got 10 hits in this one. All singles.
"Who cares?" Lee said. "It’s not how you do it. It’s just about winning."
The Cubs have won 13 of 19 games in July. They survived Lee’s five-game suspension, winning three times. Ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano won his 13th game of the season Tuesday and is just three shy of his career best in victories. The pitching staff has the best earned-run average in all of baseball this month, 3.23.
Milwaukee is hearing footsteps.
"We’ve got ourselves in good position," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "And I think if we can improve our ballclub, Jim will give it every effort."
"Jim" would be general manager Hendry, who had a grand time yukking it up with reporters on the field before the game Tuesday.
Deals in the offing? He wouldn’t say.
"But if we get Woody back, that’s better than any trade we can make," Hendry said.
"Woody" would be oft-injured pitcher Kerry Wood, who pitched one scoreless inning Tuesday night in a rehab assignment with the Peoria Chiefs. If he suffers no ill effects, Wood is to pitch in relief for the Chiefs on Thursday and again Friday.
Hendry plans to be in Peoria for the second of those two appearances, to check the starter-turned-reliever’s progress for himself.
Not that Hendry wouldn’t pull the trigger on another deal if he believes the team will benefit.
"I’d like to tinker with it, if I could," Hendry said. "A lot depends on how we’re swinging the bats."
Right now, that’s pretty well. At least well enough to have a chance to win this division.
And as the Cardinals proved last year, after taking the Central with only 83 victories, you can win a World Series from there.
A chance? For the Cubs, absolutely.
No chance? Uh, that would be the Cardinals.
KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3216 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.