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La Russa says Cardinals' problems are fixable

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa is confident the St. Louis Cardinals' offense will come around, no matter where he puts Albert Pujols on the lineup card.

An attack that was supposed be dynamic has been underwhelming, scoring three or fewer runs in 15 of the first 39 games. The Cardinals went nine games without a home run during a 3-12 tailspin knocked them out of the NL Central lead for the first time since last July 30.

Having Pujols swap spots with Matt Holliday provided at least a temporary solution for a manager who's never been afraid to experiment. A lot less radical than batting the pitcher eighth, too, for a team that led the division by five games May 4.

"There isn't any struggle and virtually, I'm not saying entirely, virtually any part of our game that's not fixable," La Russa said. "If everything worked all the time, everybody would hit .350 and you'd win 150 games or 140 games. Sometimes you've got to get things going in your direction, but a great majority of the stuff we're struggling on is fixable."

La Russa stuck with a winning hand Tuesday, keeping Holliday and Pujols at third and fourth a day after Pujols got three hits and a walk batting cleanup in a 6-2 victory over the Nationals. The manager has always spent a lot of time tinkering with his lineups, but maintains it's more about who's playing than where they're hitting in the order.

Even if Pujols had batted third 1,406 straight times dating to 2003.

"I prefer Albert hitting third, but I more prefer to get Matt going along with Albert and all the other offense we've got," La Russa said. "We've got to be more productive. Things like this, maybe there's a spark for us."

The pitching staff has been at or near the top of the National League most of the season, and was second with a 2.86 ERA and tied for the best with 24 homers allowed. Rookie Jaime Garcia has a run of seven straight quality starts and two others, Adam Wainwright (12) and Brad Penny (9) had lengthy runs that ended in their last outing.

Garcia had a 1.42 ERA, and Wainwright (2.48), Penny (2.73) weren't far behind. Closer Ryan Franklin was 8 for 9 in save chances.

The much bigger issue has been a lack of production from two of the table-setters, Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker. A .304 hitter last year, Schumaker was at .234 and batting eighth for a second straight game.

Ryan was recently benched to clear his mind while saddled with a .162 average and a glove advertised as dazzling that's betrayed him with consecutive two-error games last week. Holliday had only 14 RBIs, sixth-best on the team, along with a .163 average with runners in scoring position. He was 0 for 3 with a walk in his first game batting ahead of Pujols instead of behind the NL MVP.

Those struggles have canceled out strong starts by 27-year-old rookie David Freese (.307, 24 RBIs, .382 on-base percentage), Yadier Molina (24 RBIs) and Ryan Ludwick (.297).

Holliday has batted third much of his career and is not expecting radically different treatment for however long he lasts in the third slot with the Cardinals. Holliday said pitchers in general are a lot less liable to groove a fastball on a 2-0 count and his lineup card analysis echoes that of his manager.

"They still try to get you out exactly the same way they always do," Holliday said. "It doesn't matter who's hitting behind you or who's in front of you."

Holliday had a slow start last year, too, batting .286 with 54 RBIs in 93 games with Oakland before ramping it up to .353 with 55 RBIs in 63 games with St. Louis.

Pitchers have grown accustomed to working with a small margin for error.

"On every team I've played for, there's been some point in the season when that happens," Penny said. "It can go on all year or it could change tomorrow. It's a weird game sometimes."


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