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6/20/2007 12:53:00 PM

NL Central: The Rise of Ankiel

By Albert Chen

Memphis is home to the best ribs in the universe (Charles Vergos' Rendezvous), Elvis, and one of this summer's great baseball stories: the resurrection of Rick Ankiel. Of course you remember the kid -- the next Koufax, so many proclaimed. Of course you remember the infamous postseason meltdown, the horrific struggles that came after. I was there in Cardinals camp in March 2005 when Ankiel stood in front of reporters in a dark and narrow hallway and made the stunning (and sad) announcement that he was giving up pitching and was going to start all over -- as an outfielder.

Two years later, here he is, in Memphis, reborn as a big-time masher. For the Triple-A Redbirds, Ankiel is hitting .286 with a .608 slugging percentage and 19 home runs in 217 at bats. He recently hit seven home runs over an 11-day span; last Saturday he swatted three home runs in Des Moines. He's the leading the Pacific Coast League All-Star team vote.

Meanwhile, up I-55 in St. Louis, the bumbling big league club is starved for the kind of pop that Ankiel can provide. Only the Giants and Nats have scored fewer runs in the NL than the Cardinals, who rank 11th in the NL in home runs and 12th in slugging. Jim Edmonds hit the DL on Monday, Juan Encarnacion has a dreadful .295 OBP and four homers in 119 at bats. There is room for Ankiel. The complication: once the Cards -- who are out of options on Ankiel -- give the ex-pitching phenom the call, he'd have to pass through waivers to return to the minors.

So what do you do if you're the Cardinals? Tony La Russa to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.: "We talk about Rick a lot. Every day he gets four at-bats he's closer to getting to the majors and staying here."




Around the division

  • Marty Brennaman thinks the Reds should trade Adam Dunn. The Red Reporter disagrees.


  • The Cardinals (amazingly) have a chance in the NL Central if Chris Carpenter indeed comes back next month. The latest on the Cy Young winner.


  • Viva El Birdos is perplexed at how the Cardinals use the DL.


  • Richard Justice says Craig Biggio is selfish.


  • The Cub Reporter had second row seats for the Derrek Lee-Chris Young rumble at Wrigley, and here's a report.
  • Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments |  

    Comments:

    After that abysmal start to the season, the Cards' offense has actually been one of the best in the NL over the last 35 games (or for the last half of the season to date). Encarnacion is coming off an 18 game hitting streak and has made a big contribution to that turnaround. Of course, Edmonds (who has also been very productive in that span for the most part) going on the DL isn't going to help matters, and Eckstein was on a ridiculous tear before he got hurt. It's not offense they really need right now. When/if Carpenter, Mulder, Eckstein, Edmonds and Molina (who, don't forget, was having a career year at the plate and was providing his usual gold glove caliber defense) all get healthy, you'll see the Cards in the postseason again. God love the NL Central.
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