As the Cardinals take the field this evening at home against the Twins, they have the best record in major league baseball, 41-21, 20 games over .500 while barely more than a third of the way through the season. This despite losing their ace, Adam Wainwright, nearly two months ago. Lance Lynn, another starting pitcher, is likewise out, although his injury is far less serious. Expect him back in a couple of weeks. Two of the team’s three Matts, Adams and Holliday, who’re supposed to provide the power, are also on the DL. Jason Heyward, who was supposed to add some noise to the lineup, is hitting all of .255, but his fielding has certainly improved the Redbirds’ outfield. So how are they posting this kind of record.
They’re not scoring boatloads of runs; they’re 20th in the majors in runs scored per game. They’re not doing it with speed; in fact, don’t get me started on how they have been running themselves out of innings, this player or that seemingly thinking he’s Lou Brock. The defense has been satisfactory, but not outstanding: Kolten Wong, a pleasant surprise at the plate, has already committed 9 errors. He committed 12 all last season.
They’re largely doing it with pitching. The Cardinals have the major leagues’ lowest overall ERA (2.65), the best rotation ERA (3.00), the second-most quality starts (39), and the second-best bullpen ERA (1.93.) They have limited opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 36 of their 62 games so far. That’s darned impressive. Can they keep it up? If they want to play in October, they have to.
First, Jaime Garcia, a moody young man coming off major surgery to post a 2.09 ERA and routinely baffle hitters. If he’d gotten better run support so far this year, we’d be talking All-Star team. He’s 2-3, but all three of those losses were shutouts by the opposing pitcher(s), and in only one of them did he give up more than 2 runs.
Michael Wacha is nearly the same young fellow who thrilled us two years ago, seemingly flirting with a no-hitter every time he took the mound. He’s 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 57 Ks.
Carlos Martinez has shaken off getting lit up twice in a row back in May and is now 7-2 with 79 strikeouts and will be looking for his sixth win in a row then next time he takes the mound.
This impressive performance has to be, in part, perhaps large part, credited to the best catcher in the game, Yadier Molina, who, while his offense has dropped off, remains superb at handling his staff and calling a game.
And we should not overlook manager Mike Matheny (a former catcher), who, in three years, has taken this team to one Series appearance and to within one win of the Series the other two years.
I would like to see more offense. I would like to see some semblance of an intelligent running game. I would like to see the defense even more solid. But right now, 41-21? I’m good here.