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Know Your Enemy 2005: Weeks 15 & 16
by Derek Smart
The last conjoined entry in this series (barring personal calamity), we go over what's happened in the division since we took a break for stardom.
St. Louis Cardinals
Okay, now it might be time to worry. Not because the Cardinals might lose the division - there's as much chance of that happening as Lance Armstrong losing a Tour De France - but because the owies are starting to pile up in a way that could affect the club's viability in the playoffs. Abraham Nunez may be having the best season of his career, but no matter how good he's been so far, having to possibly rely on him instead of Scott Rolen in the postseason would be a huge blow.
That said, the reasons this team is as good as it is have a lot more to do with the pitching staff than the offense this year, and thus far, nothing's happened to significantly weaken that unit. Yes, there's cause for concern, but the Cardinals look to have time and run prevention on their side.
The Astros went 7-1 when they weren't playing St. Louis, so if the Cardinals are kryptonite to the Astros' Supermen, then the rest of the National League must be a wet paper bag. A week or two ago someone mentioned (I don't remember who or where) that they thought the A's had a great chance to be this year's Astros. Well, it looks an awful lot like the Astros might be this year's Astros, too.
The Rickie Weeks show has officially begun, as the Brewers' future star has come out of the break hitting .286/.375/.548, driving two homers, three doubles and a triple in those eleven games. Of course, he's also struck out eleven times - most on the team in that span - so it's not like he doesn't have more to learn.
Here's the important thing, though: noting how good Weeks is now, how close Prince Fielder is to permanent Major League status, and how J.J. Hardy appears to finally be figuring out how to hit (.283/.368/.433 in his last 60 at bats), if the Brewers finish below .500 this year, it may be the last time for quite a while.
The only team in the NL Central to post a losing record since the break, the Bucs are falling like a stone statue of Bhudda with a rock tied to its ankle. The firing of Lloyd McClendon, which up until now has existed only in the Fantastic Media Speculation Factories of Gamma 12, should be shifting into the realm of the real before season's end.
Joe Randa was the first to be shipped out of town, and looking back, knowing what we know about über-third-base-prospect, Edwin Encarnacion, Randa's departure was a foregone conclusion the day he signed. We'll see if this is the end of the storm, or the beginning of a flood.