Heading into the 2012 season, the St. Louis Cardinals had lost the best hitter in the game during the past decade. Albert Pujols left the comforts of St. Louis to chase big money, and many thought the Cardinals’ offensive production would leave with him.
Instead, the opposite has been true. Going into play Saturday, the Cardinals were leading the National League in hits, homeruns, RBIs, batting average, runs scored and tied for the league lead in triples.
Simply put, the Cardinals are mashing at the plate so far this season. In fact, the team is on pace to put up offensive numbers far superior to the numbers the World Series champion club did a year ago, even though that team also led the National League in batting average.
That’s not to say people expected the Cardinals to be horrible, but certainly not this good.
Many thought the Cardinals’ pitching staff would have to be incredible for the team to just keep pace this season. Well, it has been great so far. The staff is second in the National League in ERA behind the Washington Nationals.
But the offense has made a strong case that it can carry the team.
Right fielder Carlos Beltran is tied for the National League lead in homeruns and is second in RBIs. Third baseman David Freese is tied for fifth in the league in RBIs. Center fielder Jon Jay is hitting .376. Utility man Matt Carpenter is tied for third in the league in triples. Catcher Yadier Molina is tied for second in doubles and shortstop Rafeal Furcal is tied for the league lead in hits.
Good grief, this team is hitting the tar out of the ball. Even the most optimistic fan had to expect a bit of a drop off from the offensive numbers of the 2011 squad, but the opposite has been true.
What’s also amazing is how the Cardinals have built this offense. Beltran is 35 years old, Furcal is 34 and first baseman Lance Berkman is 36. Granted, Berkman has been sidelined much of the year with a calf injury, but the Cardinals have resurrected these hitters’ careers the way former pitching coach Dave Duncan brought old pitchers back to life to throw for a few productive years.
Beltran, Berkman and Furcal all looked to be at the end of their careers right before they joined the Cardinals.
Berkman joined the team in 2011 after hitting .248 the year before with the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. Furcal was hitting .197 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011 before he joined the Cardinals at the trade deadline. Beltran is already more than halfway to his 2011 homerun total of 22 that he hit while playing for the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.
What makes these hitters find a reserve tank of energy when they join the Cardinals? Might hitting coach Mark McGwire have something to do with it? In any case, each player has certainly enjoyed his time with the Cardinals, and the franchise has gotten much more than people expected out of these aging stars.
The Cardinals have excellent clubhouse chemistry right now under the leadership of rookie manager Mike Matheny. Just observe the homerun line that forms in the dugout after each homerun.
This team is having fun, and it is winning ballgames. That’s a recipe that could make for quite a ride throughout the rest of this season, especially since it was unexpected.