Going into this season, Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak discussed some of the off-season moves the club had made. He said at the time, and has since reiterated, that the team was aware of the defensive sacrifices they’d made (see: Ryan, Brendan, UZR), but felt that in order to better compete in the 2011 National League Central division, a more potent offense was critical.
Despite starting the season off slowly at the plate, and, according to at least one account, carrying a batting average lower than the weight of Mozeliak’s 12 year-old daughter, Ryan Theriot is the Cardinals’ shortstop. This is one area where the “we chose offense over defense” decision has been clear, as Theriot has committed 15 errors so far this season. He’s also batting .290 with 32 RBI, and has 17 doubles, tying him with Molina, 2nd to Holliday’s 18.
But this isn’t about Ryan Theriot. This is about the St. Louis Cardinals, and their run at the franchise’s 24th playoff appearance. I’ve said before that, when it comes to making a run at the postseason, what matters most is how a team stacks up against their division. Being that we’re halfway through the season, I’d like to take a look at four offensive categories in the National League. More specifically, I want to see the team for which these leaders in these offensive categories play, and which division that team is in. From there, I’ll let you decide whether or not pursuing offense over defense in the offseason was a factor in the Cardinals being at the top of the division (55 days in 1st place).
NL Batting Average Leaders: 3 of the top 5 are National League Central players (HOU, MIL, CIN)
NL Runs Scored Leaders: 4 of the top 5 are NL Central players (MIL, HOU, MIL, CIN)
NL Home Runs Leaders: 4 of the top 5 are NL Central players (STL, MIL, CIN, CHC)
NL Runs Batted In Leaders: 3 of the top 5 are NL Central players (MIL, STL, MIL)
You may be wondering about pitching categories, well, let me say this: Looking at Wins, Saves, Strikeouts, ERA, & WHIP, the aforementioned NLC teams are represented in the following manner:
NL leaders in Wins: 2 of the top 5 (PIT, MIL)
NL leaders in Saves: 1 of the top 5 (PIT)
NL leaders in Strikeouts: 0 of the top 5
NL leaders in ERA: 1 of the top 5 (PIT)
NL leaders in WHIP: 1 of the top 5 (STL, Lohse)
A marked difference! Pittsburgh is represented nowhere offensively, yet are also still contending in the division. Gallardo (MIL) and Lohse (STL) are the only two non-Pirates in the NLC that appear on the pitching leaderboard at all.
So, I ask you: Where would this Cardinals team be right now if not for the offensive production in the lineup? Don’t tell me that with the McClellan we’ve seen lately, the Carpenter we saw until recently, and the Westbrook we’ve seen all year that we’d be anywhere near the top of the division. And spare me any arguments that contain “if” and “Wainwright”–he’s a stud, we all know it, but he’s not around, period. I have to believe the reason the Cardinals are enjoying the success they’re having in the division is a direct result of the conscious decision to go after offense, even if it meant sacrificing defense. The biggest problem I see with that? Offense wins games, it may be true, but pitching & defense win championships.