The St. Louis Cardinals headed into last night’s game at Camden Yards in Baltimore with a 42-38 record, even after losing 12 out of the past 17 games they have played. As bad as it has been, it could be much worse.
The Cardinals have been benefiting greatly from two players, one a pitcher and one a batter, who have turned in extraordinary and unexpected seasons. Without these two players, the Cards would be in a tough spot, one that would probably see them in the bottom of the division.
Still do not know which two players I am discussing? Their names — Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman. Both have salvaged what were once seen as careers on the decline and have been critical members of keeping the Cards’ season afloat.
Lohse, currently the teams’ best starter, arrived in St. Louis during the 2008 season. He was seen as damaged goods, a pitcher without overpowering stuff, yet one that tried to blow everything by hitters.
However, the Cardinals have also earned a name of a team that salvages pitchers careers. Pitching coach Dave Duncan has been seen as someone with magical powers for the way he has turned careers around.
His message is nothing these pitchers have not heard before, pound the zone and rely on your defense, but for some reason it only clicks wearing the red and white uniforms. Lohse instantly seemed like a new man during his debut season.
The former Minnesota Twin recorded 15 wins and has an ERA of 3.78, easily surpassing his previous career-low by half a run. The difference for Lohse was not just throwing strikes, but also his change from throwing his four-seam fastball to throwing a two-seam, sinking fastball.
It allowed Lohse to record outs without being throwing too many pitches, thereby keeping him in the game towards the later innings. Unfortunately for Lohse, the success was short-lived.
The next two seasons witnessed Lohse recording a total of 10 wins, five short of what he had in his debut season. Because of his past performance, many did not know what to expect out of the expected No. 4 starter.
No one could have expected a season such as this.
Lohse has dug up his old glory and currently has an 8-4 record while pitching to a 2.84 ERA, easily the lowest of his career. With Chris Carpenter not pitching like his ace-like self, it has been Lohse who has filled in the gap, supplying the Cards with innings and wins, something that has helped them stay afloat.
Injuries have also played a role on the Cardinals’ offense, especially with the loss of perennial MVP candidate in Albert Pujols. Losing a player of Pujols’ caliber, a middle of the order bat, someone who changes games was a huge blow, but the 35-year-old Berkman has picked up the slack.
Berkman spent his whole career as a member of another N.L. Central team, the Houston Astros, but was acquired midseason last year by the New York Yankees. He was expected to add some veteran know-how and an extra power bat off the bench.
However, he did not do much in pinstripes. He continued his struggles at the plate, recording a career-low average of .248 and only blasting 14 home runs. It was the second consecutive season in which a decline was spotted, therefore making many in the industry believe he was done.
The Big Puma had other ideas. The Cardinals offered him a contract and he signed on and set his sights on proving everyone wrong — he has done just that since.
Berkman has filled the middle-of-the-order void during Pujols’ slow start to the season and now during his absence by blasting 18 home runs, already four more than all of last season, and hitting .295, only one point shy of his career average.
He has also proved those wrong that he could not stay healthy if he had to play the field everyday. Berkman hasn’t played Gold-Glove caliber defense in the outfield, but he has made the routine plays, more than making up for miscues with the offense.
Where would the Cardinals be without these two players as a member of the 25 man roster? Well, the Cardinals and their fans don’t have to worry about that.
For now they can sit back and relax, knowing that both Berkman and Lohse are leaving everything on the field, playing beyond expectations, and putting wins on the left side of the record column.
Ryan Lazo is a Contributing Writer to I-70 Baseball. He also covers the A.L. East for BaseballDigest.com. He can reached at RMLazo13@gmail.com, followed on Twitter @RMLazo13 and read his Blog Artificially Enhanced.