Matt Carpenter, Pete Kozma could shatter expectations for St. Louis Cardinals

One of the St. Louis Cardinals’ biggest questions marks during the offseason was how the team would fill the middle infield positions, and the answers the Cardinals found could end up making those positions of strength throughout the season.

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The Cardinals had planned to have Rafael Furcal be their starting shortstop on opening day, as he had been last season. But Furcal’s torn right elbow ligament didn’t heal in the offseason and he had to undergo surgery during spring training.

That left Pete Kozma, the player who hit .333 in 26 games for the Cardinals last season, as the man to fill one of the most important positions on the field. However, the Cardinals still didn’t have much confidence in Kozma because they still had bad memories of him being the organization’s first-round pick in 2007 that had a .236 batting average in six minor-league seasons.

But shortstop was only one half of the uncertainty surrounding second base for the Cardinals during spring training.

Daniel Descalso played 143 games for the Cardinals in 2012 and played stellar defense whether he was at second base, shortstop or third base, but he also hit just .227. The Cardinals didn’t think they could survive another season with a second baseman who hit under .230 so they asked Matt Carpenter work on learning the position during the offseason so he could potentially take over second base in 2013.

Carpenter did his work and won the job in spring training, but that still meant the Cardinals planned to enter the season with a rookie at shortstop and a former utility player who hadn’t had more than 300 at-bats in a single season.

That combined inexperience justifiably sent shivers down the spines of many Cardinals fans, and for good reason.

The Cardinals had tried to patch holes in the middle infield before with limited success. They traded for Furcal only when Brendan Ryan and Tyler Greene proved they weren’t going to be good enough at shortstop. Also, the Skip Schumaker experiment at second base lasted for a couple of years, but he was replaced by the .227-hitting Descalso last season.

So for better or worse, the Cardinals ended up with Kozma and Carpenter as the middle infield combination for 2013, but early results show this concoction could not only work, but it could work pretty well.

Carpenter hasn’t played second base yet because he’s been over at third base while David Freese recovers from an injury, but he and Kozma have already made an impact one series into the season.

Carpenter had three doubles in the team’s first three games, and he played solid-to-great defense at third base. Kozma hit .308 in the opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, including a double and a homerun.

Granted, that is an incredibly small sample size. Both players could eventually be exposed throughout the course of the season and consistently take terrible at-bats. But at this point, each has looked confident at the plate and in the field, and they are both getting results.

If that continues, the Cardinals might win a lot of games because of a middle infield composed of two players who the team didn’t even consider good enough to start until circumstances forced them into the lineup.

Sometimes the unexpected gifts are the best of all.

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