Keep On Keepin’ On

After a slow, disheartening start the Cardinals have not lost a series since rolling into Arizona and taking two of three from the Diamondbacks April 11-13.

The level of competition from those teams has been diverse; the Cards are beating good teams AND bad teams, which is a nice change from constantly getting beat by inferior clubs last year. They used to play to the level of their competition and now they just play. But it’s the kind of play that doesn’t seem ridiculous and unsustainable. It would be a little suspect if the team was on a 15-2 tear; those are awesome but hot streaks like that end. And I realize no one expects Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman to flirt with a .400 batting average over all 162 games this year. But could the Cardinals continue to be in most games, win series, and hold off the other teams in the NL Central for the next five months? Sure they can.

The normal blueprint for such a run always seems to start with health. “If they can stay healthy, they will be good.” I buy into that line of thinking, and even say it myself practically every year. But have the Cards been truly healthy at all this season? Adam Wainwright barely even saw Spring Training before he went down for the year. Nick Punto also saw little preseason action before hitting the DL and didn’t make his debut until a couple of weeks ago. The Cardinals lost two bullpen arms in Brian Tallet and Bryan Augenstein, Allen Craig took a turn on the DL, Skip Schumaker has been out for a few weeks, and David Freese just checked in for his yearly visit to the unavailable ward.

And yet the Cards keep on winning.

The team has evidently adopted a “closer by committee” even though hot shot newbie Eduardo Sanchez has taken hold of the role with more regularity of late. Much has been said about the bullpen’s troubles this year, but take Ryan Franklin out of the picture and none of the relievers currently on the team has an ERA over 3.00 going into Friday’s action. But then again, taking Franklin out of the picture means the Cards likely would not have a major league-leading eight blown saves. Since Franklin was relieved of his closer duties, several other Redbird relievers have hit bumps in the road trying to maintain a perfect save percentage too.

And yet the Cards keep on winning.

The team defense is kind of the pits. The Cards are second in the majors in errors with 28. That’s almost one per game. They are near the bottom of the majors in team fielding percentage, too, with .938. Yadier Molina is only throwing out base burglars at a 38% clip (his career average is 46%) and he already has three errors on the year after a total of five each of the last two seasons. Ryan Theriot has never had more than 15 errors in a season, but he’s already more than halfway to that total. Albert Pujols has four errors, and he’s never had more than 14 in a season.

And yet the Cards keep on winning.

So far, what the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals have showed more than anything is resiliency. But they have to keep it up: last year, the Cards woke up on May 7 to find themselves in first place with an 18-11 record. The difference is the 2010 Cardinals had not yet been bitten by the injury bug. This year’s team clearly already has. Injuries are a part of the game; how the team responds to them tells a lot about who they are. Getting it out of the way early? Perhaps. The season is still young, having just entered its sixth week. And once again, the Cards will not have their starting third baseman for an extended period. But unlike last year, Freese will return to the lineup. Tallet is on his way back. The younger players are gaining experience through extra playing time. And the Cardinals don’t have the added burden of being the favorite anymore, so maybe the team is a little looser this time around. Maybe the front office was right about the attitude/chemistry/character adjustments that were needed last offseason.

I can buy into that, too…as long as the Cards keep on winning.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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