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Cardinals challenge Phillies as best in National League: A fan’s perspective
The Philadelphia Phillies are supposed to be the best team in the National League. After all, every fan here in Philadelphia has believed that they are—or should be—since the beginning of the season.
But at the moment, while the Phillies try to show more consistency, the St. Louis Cardinals look like the best in the league, instead.
The Phillies still don't have to be that worried about the NL East yet, given that the Florida Marlins are slumping even worse, and the Atlanta Braves are still a few games back. However, Philadelphia will have to beat other teams to get back to the World Series, and the Cardinals look like the toughest potential obstacle at the moment.
Right now, the Cardinals are neck-and-neck with the Phils for the NL's best record, and have both their offense and pitching on track. While St. Louis doesn't have Roy Halladay(notes), Cole Hamels(notes), Cliff Lee(notes) and Roy Oswalt(notes), its staff has something that ours doesn't. It has four starters with six or more wins—and none of them is former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter(notes).
In an even scarier concept, the Cardinals' offense leader is not Albert Pujols(notes). Lance Berkman(notes) and Matt Holliday(notes) have carried the load while Pujols has had an unusually slow start. But since Pujols got two game-winning home runs this past weekend against the Chicago Cubs, it could only be a matter of time before he rights his ship for good. In any case, a massive September and October would really make his case for the 10-year, $300 million contract he wants from Cardinals management.
If Pujols is his old self by the stretch drive, and if Berkman and Holliday are still on their pace, the Cardinals will have the most feared trio of hitters in the league—if they don't already. At this point, the Phillies would kill to have Ryan Howard(notes), Jimmy Rollins(notes), Shane Victorino(notes), or anyone else, with that kind of hitting power right now.
Yet things aren't all bright for the Cardinals now, since Holliday is on the 15-day DL. But they haven't lost a step so far, and maintain a lead in the NL Central over the hot Milwaukee Brewers. In fact, since the Phillies are up and down, and since the San Francisco Giants are trying to hold strong without Buster Posey(notes), St. Louis looks even better right now as a National League threat.
Us Philadelphia fans already got a taste of that a while back, when the Phillies were shut down in St. Louis on May 16 and 17. In fact, they are going back to visit the Cardinals in less than two weeks, and will really need to get out of their current slump by then.
St. Louis isn't completely healthy, and is still trying to get some of its stars on track, like Philadelphia is. But if the Cardinals get completely healed up, and have Pujols and Carpenter back on track, they could roll through the National League. Likewise, the Phillies can easily do the same, should its stars stop getting hurt and stop falling into long slumps.
But which team will get healthy and fully hot again first? The answer to that question may well determine who wins the pennant. Yet even now, while the Phillies and Cardinals might not be at full strength, they still look like the two strongest contenders in the National League anyway.
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