Now we are down to it. I am not a fan of the Cardinals so I truly want to pick them apart and find all of their weaknesses, but I must be honest the Cardinals are a good baseball team. They just happen to be won I dislike. The funny thing is I did not always think the Cardinals were so distasteful. When I was a kid I loved reading stories about Stan Musial, Dizzy and Daffy Dean, and Bob Gibson. Gibson has always been one of my favorite pitchers. The first inkling of my disgust for this team happened in the 80s when Ozzie Smith began to eclipse both Davey Concepcion and a young Barry Larkin. That anyone would gain more attention than these two has never been an easy concept for me to understand or accept. So with this in mind, let’s put the Card’s under the microscope and see what makes them tick.
When I look at a lineup, I like seeing every player batting .270 or better. The Cardinals approach that level of success. Currently, 3 starters on the Cardinals are a bit under my level of success but in fairness so was Cesar Geronimo who hit .257 during the Big Red Machine’s championship 1975 season. Colby Rasmus has the worst batting average at .246 (though he leads the team in runs scored with 54) while Daniel Descalso and Chip Schumaker are hitting .261 and .267 respectively.
On the positive side, the addition of Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday has been a game changer for the Cardinals. Berkman is batting .290 with a team leading 24 HRs, 63 RBIs, and 1.006 OPS. Holliday leads the team with a .324 batting average and 19 doubles, he also adds in 45 runs scored and 49 RBIs. Albert Pujols, of course, must be in the discussion of the Cardinals offense. Sure his productivity is down a bit from what we are used to with him but the numbers are still a powerful force. He has added 54 runs and 50 RBIs to the mix.
Since I already have tread on sacred ground by invoking statistics from the Big Red Machine I guess it won’t matter if I continue by comparing offensive statistics of the 1975 Reds with the 2011 Cardinals through the first 92 games using the magic of baseball-reference.com.
The Cardinals are not as strong as this iconic Reds juggernaut but the numbers are close enough to make you pause in admiration.
The comparisons between the BRM and the 2011 Cards actually extend into this category. The Cardinals, like the other 4 teams the Reds compete against in the NL, are below average defensively. The Cards have committed 61 errors and have a .983 fielding percentage but of course this is not an indictment of the whole team as much as it draws attention to 3 positions around the diamond.
The first exhibit is right field. There are 7 players who have roamed the right side of the outfield, as a team the Cardinals have played quite well in right, Lance Berkman though has committed the only 3 errors and is the shakiest part of the defense playing in right. The next 2 positions are third base and shortstop, arguably the most difficult positions to play. David Descalso has stepped up and done an amazing job filling in for David Freese at third during his stint on the DL. Descalso has a decent fielding percentage at .271 while on Freese return he has already piled up as many errors in half the games. Freese is saddled with a .939 fielding percentage lower the Cardinals total at this position to just .956. The perspective on this number is a tough one for Tony LaRussa, who does not think defensive ability matters as long as the best bat is on the field. Consider that for every 20 plays made at third base the Cardinals commit an error. Ryan Theriot also struggles at short with his ball handling and throwing skills. He leads the team with 15 errors and a .957 fielding percentage. Every batter stepping to the plate against this team should attempt to go hit it to the left side of the infield.
The season began with everyone, including myself, convinced that the Cardinals were in serious trouble with the spring training injury to Adam Wainwright. In looking back at the first half of the season it is even harder to believe that with Chris Carpenter losing 2 out of 3 games the Cardinals could be even slightly competitive. Yet they are not only competitive they are leading the league because in spite of his struggles Carpenter still eats innings averaging over 6.2 innings per start. And the fact that he is the only starter on the roster with a losing record. 24 year old Jaime Garcia this week was rewarded with a new 4 year contract for his 9-3 record and the potential for long term success as a capable left handed starter. In Addition they have had solid performances from Kyle Lohse, Kyle McClellan, and Jake Westbrook.
The Cardinals bullpen is their biggest vulnerability but it is slowly improving. Closer Ryan Franklin is gone and Fernando Salas is competently filling that role and with a starting staff that consistently goes deep into games they are getting by. The question is what happens if the starting staff would have a bad week? This bullpen could get into catastrophic trouble fast. This situation is worth monitoring closely as it is a giant chink in the Cardinals armor.
The Cardinals are a strong contender for the title. If Albert Pujols returns to form they might be the favorite. My nagging impression, and mind you I am biased, is that the Cards simply need a better bullpen and better defense to make a serious run at the title. Stay tuned for more on this subject as the season marches forward.
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