Picking the best player in a particular league is never an easy task, but picking who is the most meaningful Cardinal is arguably and even tougher one. Between Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig, the team has three very viable MVP candidates, all of which could make a claim for the real deal by season’s end.
More so than any other team in baseball, the Cardinals lean on the total team approach at the plate. There’s no one contributor that’s leaned on to carry the weight of the club individually. This delegation of responsibility is what makes determining just who’s the most valuable portion of the lineup that much more difficult this season. Even with the contributions of Carlos Beltran and Adam Wainwright, it is a three headed race for who is the Cardinals’ biggest regular impact this year. Each has been an irreplaceable catalyst in the timeliest lineup in baseball.
The Glue: The favorite in the clubhouse for most of the season has been Molina, and with good reason. The perennial Gold Glover and face of the organization has had his finest summer to date, on the heels of a 2012 season that carried that same honor. While his league-best (…) average is the most noticeable headline of his year, without a doubt he is perhaps the best intangibles player in the game today. He has guided the club’s young pitching staff to an outstanding year thus far, and has continued to change the way that teams approach attacking the Cardinals on the bases. In terms of most differences made, it is tough to make a case against Yadi.
The Catalyst: However, the biggest change in the team came when Carpenter truly took off out of the leadoff spot, solving a long-standing uncertainty for the club. And he the windfall of his production has spread throughout the entirety of the lineup beneath him. He leads all National Leaguers in doubles (31) and runs scored (75), while his 120 hits come in at second in the league as well.
While he is not the traditional leadoff man in a speed sense, the most important job of a lineup lead is to get on base, and he has that down pat. His .399 on-base percentage is the best on the club, and third best in the NL, and since moving up to the order in May, his .410 OBP has been the second best mark in the NL overall.
For a guy that started the calendar year with a new glove at a position he’d never played exclusively in his life, to find himself in his first All-Star Game just six months later, his impact combined with growth has been the most remarkable transformation the club has seen in years.
The Wrench: Craig’s impact has been predictable in a situation where it shouldn’t be. Simply put, he’s the most dependable player in baseball at the absolute best time to be that. While his 77 RBI overall are impressive, the fact that 67 have come with runners in scoring position is unreal. The batting average he carries in this position is a surreal .489 this year, which is nearly 50 points better than next most efficient producer in the situation. Digging even deeper into his clutch prowess, with runners in scoring position and two outs, Craig has produced 30 of his 77 runs driven in and carries a .467 average as well.
Timely hitting has been the Cardinals calling card, as they carry a .338 average as a team with runners waiting to be driven in, but Craig’s efforts go over and above. It’s truly one of the most efficiently productive years in recent history.
In the end, it is very possible that Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez or another rising candidate from a contender takes the MVP crown for himself completely. It is also possible that another situation such as took place around the Cy Young Award in 2010, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter cancelled each other out on the ballots, takes place and knocks each Cardinal down a notch. However, regardless of outcome, 2013 has plenty of potential to go down as one of the finest overall efforts of any offering the franchise has put forth, across the board. Where everybody gets their due…yet nobody can claim too much credit.