Jocketty, La Russa deserve credit, but watch out for Cubs

Sunday, August 8, 2004

Although there is still plenty of the season left, the Cardinals right now appear headed to a runaway National League Central Division title.

St. Louis, picked by most national media types to finish no better than third when the season started, have parlayed big-time offense, stellar defense, surprisingly strong starting pitching and a quality bullpen to baseball's best record entering the weekend.

You've got to give plenty of credit to general manager Walt Jocketty for putting together what appears to be a team loaded with plenty of talent and just the right chemistry -- winning big sure helps out in that last regard, doesn't it?

And don't forget oft-maligned manager Tony La Russa, who appears to have expertly pulled just about all the right strings so far. La Russa gets ripped unmercifully when the team is playing poorly, so he deserves his share of praise when things are going well.

But -- and I don't want to rain on anybody's parade -- even though all is looking so rosy for the Cardinals right now, I still doubt most people consider them overwhelming favorites to reach the World Series.

Forgive me for this one, all you Cubs haters, but watch out for Chicago, which has finally gotten its pitching staff healthy and appears to be rounding into overall form.

Sure, the Cubs don't have much of a chance of catching the Cardinals in the NL Central, but by trading for superstar shortstop Nomar Garciaparra --and not really giving up all that much in return -- they certainly set themselves up nicely for a postseason run if they are able to win the wild card.

If the Cubs' pitching staff can avoid further injuries -- and that might be a big "if" considering all the problems Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have had this year --they'd almost have to rank at least as the co-favorite in any NL playoff series regardless of their record. And don't forget, the wild-card route has provided the last two world champions.

While the rest of the regular season might not hold all that much suspense for Cardinals fans -- unless the Redbirds suddenly hits the skids, which they have given no indication of doing -- the playoffs are definitely another matter.

Either way, it should be a lot of fun.

Southeast Missouri State University held its first football practice Saturday -- and what a great, unseasonably cool day the Indians were greeted with -- while area high school teams begin official workouts Monday. And NFL training camps have been going for a while now.

Yes, football fever is definitely in the air once again while the baseball season is still in full swing.

It's a great time of the year to be a sports fan, isn't it?

Former Eastern Illinois star quarterback Tony Romo, who made the Cowboys' roster last year as an undrafted free agent, is getting his share of publicity -- ESPN did a nice interview with him -- now that Dallas has released quarterback Quincy Carter.

While Vinny Testaverde will certainly be the Cowboys' starter, it appears that Romo will receive an opportunity to battle highly touted Drew Henson for the backup spot. And, at worst, Romo will be Dallas' third-string quarterback for the second straight season, which isn't too bad a gig.

Another ex-Ohio Valley Conference standout -- Trenton Hassell -- also did quite well for himself when the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday re-signed the former Austin Peay basketball star to a six-year contract worth a cool $27 million.

Hassell, a big scorer when he played for the Govs, now makes his mark as one of the NBA's better defensive guards.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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