Searching For Bright Spots

Believe it or not, there are a few.

No one wanted to see the St. Louis Cardinals start their season by dropping consecutive series to the San Diego Padres and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Albert Pujols and several other key hitters are slumping (or pressing…or whatever polish you want to apply to “hitting like crap so far”), the defense has mostly been as bad as feared, and the team has just been inconsistent if not uninspiring since Opening Day. It is the first time since 1919 they’ve gone this deep into the season without scoring more than three runs in any game.

Yup…it’s bad. But I have to find some things to be excited about, even if only to keep my interest up.

For instance, I happened to be in attendance for both Cardinal victories at Busch Stadium. So, you know…you’re welcome.

–Has anyone noticed how solid David Freese has been at the Hot Corner so far? The Cards have a long tradition of great players manning third base, and Freese has a long way to go before he can fall in line with guys like Scott Rolen or Terry Pendleton. But he has turned in some gems already this season, and on less than 100% ankles. As his legs get stronger, so should his defense.

–Although the bigger offense stories on this team are the negative ones, it is encouraging to see Skip Schumaker hitting near .300 again. His on-base (.308) and slugging percentage (.320) could be higher, but he certainly looks less like the player he was early in 2010. And that leads me to believe he should be in the leadoff position every game, regardless of which hand the opposing starting pitcher uses to throw the ball. Ryan Theriot is still searching for his stroke, and if the true goal is getting as many runners on base as possible in front of Pujols, Holliday, etc. then it shouldn’t matter if two lefties—the other being Colby Rasmus—hit first and second.

–Speaking of Rasmus, he too has good offensive numbers early. His batting average is over .300 and his on-base percentage is pushing .500 after reaching three times on Friday. Unfortunately, Pujols has become the double play machine so far this year, so Rasmus gets erased a lot. But if Rasmus can continue the trend of hitting and taking more walks than strikeouts, it will really boost the team when Pujols finally snaps out of it.

–The Cards are pretty middle-of-the-pack when it comes to team pitching stats, but Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Kyle McClellan have turned in pretty strong first starts. Garcia, of course, pitched the best game of his career on Sunday, and though he doesn’t have a win to show for it, Carpenter looks to be close to mid-season form with a 2.08 ERA and 10 strikeouts over 13 innings pitched. But aside from one bad inning, Kyle Lohse was at least able to turn in seven innings. And Jake Westbrook recovered from his disastrous debut to give up a slightly more respectable three earned runs over five and two thirds on Friday to bring his ERA back under 10 for the season. I guess the real silver lining here is that everyone in the current rotation is healthy, and three-fifths of the rotation has been very impressive.

–Matt Holliday had a great Spring Training and carried it over to Opening Day by going 3 for 4 with a home run, then promptly disappeared from the lineup for an emergency appendectomy. But just over a week later, he has traveled with the team and appears poised to return any day now. That would be huge for this team, especially if Holliday can pick up where he left off. And don’t look now, but utility glove Nick Punto has made his way to extended spring training to begin rehabbing. No return date has been floated yet, but it won’t be long. And that would boost the defense off the bench.

Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it gets right now. Just look at it as a dose of sunshine on what has been, for the most part, a gloomy start to the season.

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