Team Profile – St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals made a powerful statement in 2011: Don’t underestimate a Wild Card team. After the Atlanta Braves had a legendary collapse in the final month of the regular season, the Cardinals were able to take away the Wild Card spot, make it to the playoffs, and ultimately win the World Series. During the offseason, St. Louis lost a few key pieces to that 2011 championship team, including backup catcher Gerald Laird, reliever Octavio Dotel, starter Edwin Jackson, and superstar slugger Albert Pujols. Despite all those losses, though, the core of the team remained intact in 2012, and some key players have picked up the slack. The Cards currently hold one of the two Wild Card spots in the National League, but other teams are closing in fast. What do they have to do to keep strong and make it back to the postseason?
It’s hard to imagine a starting rotation that, as a whole, could possibly be having more success than the 2012 Cardinals. The amount of run support that the starting pitchers get is astounding. Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, and Jake Westbrook all have at least 13 wins. At 14-2 with a 2.64 ERA, Lohse is making an extremely strong case for the N.L. Cy Young, as well. The most important thing with this rotation is that the top four have been healthy for the entire season. Only six starters have been needed this season, which means that they’re pitching well, avoiding injury, and making sure that the team is winning games. It’s hard to believe that this team isn’t at the top of the N.L. Central.
The majority of Americans felt that the St. Louis Cardinals just wouldn’t be the same when Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels in the offseason. But, for those of us who weren’t so naïve as to think that Pujols was the be all and end all of that team (or those actually watched them play last season), it was clear that there were other hitters on this team that were going to make it just as powerful of a contender in 2012. Sure enough, they’re keeping things together just fine.
Yadier Molina is easily the best catcher in baseball. The only person who used to be able to compete with him was Joe Mauer, and Joe’s catching days are nearly behind him. (Fun Fact: When you’re 6’4”, crouching down all the time wears out your knees really fast.) Molina is also the best hitter on this team right now, at .324 with 17 home runs and 62 RBIs. Catchers aren’t expected to be offensive powerhouses; that’s what first basemen are for. So when you find a catcher who is hitting for a high average, as well as extra-base power, it’s something special.
But Molina isn’t alone in the hit parade this year. Allen Craig is hitting .309 with 20 home runs; Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay are at .307; Matt Holliday has 24 home runs at .306; Skip Schumaker is hitting .306; David Freese has 17 home runs and is hitting .298; and Carlos Beltran leads the team with 28 home runs. That’s essentially the entire starting lineup. It’s amazing that with an entire starting lineup hitting above or near .300 that this team isn’t in first place in the major leagues.
The problem seems to be coming from the bullpen. Whether it’s because of injury, inconsistency, or inability, the Cardinals’ bullpen has seen eighteen different pitchers come and go through the last five months. Whatever the reason, always having to break in a new pitcher isn’t going to lead to a whole lot of success. Sure, Mitchell Boggs and his 1.96 ERA is fantastic, and closer Jason Motte is 31/36 in save opportunities with a 2.57 ERA. So there are bright spots, especially for your late-inning guys. If nothing else, those are the players you want performing at their best. Even if everyone else is failing, if your late-inning relievers can keep you in the game, then there’s always a chance to win.
Keys to Success
Obviously this team is one of the very best in the game when the starter is on the mound. But if they’re going to hold onto that Wild Card spot (or make a run at the division crown in September), the bullpen has to find some consistency. Sure, it might be a little late in the season to say that, and the bullpen can only add more pieces after September call ups. But you can’t waste the efforts of (arguably) the best rotation in baseball or the consistent hitting of an entire lineup. If you aren’t picking up the slack late in the game, then you’re never going to have another playoff run like last year. Perhaps the September additions will perk things up, as everyone has to fight for playing time by being good.