If someone had told me a month ago that by the end of April Albert Pujols would be hitting in the mid-.200’s and had ground into more double plays than home runs, I would think the Cardinals probably would be struggling to find offense. If that same someone had also told me Chris Carpenter would have more losses than wins and Jake Westbrook would have a 7.40 ERA by now, I would think the Cards had major rotation issues.
I also would not think that despite the above numbers, the League Leaders would still be littered with Cardinals. And I also would not think the Cardinals would be in first place. But it’s true—all of it.
It may not be fair to label Matt Holliday an “other guy.” He is, after all, the highest paid player on the roster. He should have great numbers. But Holliday started off so slowly last year it’s almost comical to see that he’s hitting over .400 for the month of April. And maybe Jaime Garcia really is as good as his rookie campaign in 2010, so with that in mind his 3-0 start and 2.08 ERA could just be a continuation of the type of pitcher he really is.
But Kyle Lohse of all people has been the best pitcher on the team, and is one of the best in the league. He is 4-1 with a 1.68 ERA. He and Garcia both already have complete game shutouts this season. And Kyle McClellan has shown he really can be an effective starter after finally getting his shot: he is 4-0 with a 3.23 ERA. The Cards are the only NL team with two four game winners; one is a guy who missed the better part of the last two years to injury and the other is a converted reliever.
And what can be said about Lance Berkman that hasn’t already been said? He won player of the week once this season, and he could win it again this week. Berkman and Holliday are pacing the league in batting average, and Berkman is among the leaders in home runs, too.
David Freese is off to a hot start, too, joining Berkman and Holliday in the top 10 in the majors in batting average. Colby Rasmus is up over .300 as well. If these guys have a knock against them, it’s their strikeouts…they are the top two K-machines on the team. But they only barely crack the highest 50 whiffers in the majors. So it could be a lot worse. Remember the little tirade Tony LaRussa had earlier this month? It looks like he was right. The Cards lead the league in team hits, batting average, on-base percentage, and RBI and are top 10 in slugging, home runs, and fewest strikeouts. This team can hit, and they still are not seeing much out of Pujols.
Everyone knows about the bullpen troubles, but I believe that to be a temporary speed bump. Roles have completely changed and guys have been injured. Is it serious? Certainly. But it’s hard to get completely down on pitching with Dave Duncan in the dugout. The bullpen will get sorted out; it may not ever be stellar but it will be better than we’ve seen this month.
All in all, the Cardinals have been surprising this month. I remember talking to a friend at the beginning of the year—during their slow offensive start—and saying I wanted to see increments before I believed this could be a good team. I wanted to see a good game, then a good series of games, then a good week, then a good couple of weeks, etc. So far the Cards have produced all of the above and could finish with a good month. If these numbers keep rolling and others elevate their levels to their norms, there will be no denying the 2011 Cardinals are in fact a great team.