The Cardinals brought an end to a brief slide over the weekend with a series win over the Cincinnati Reds. Despite still not getting the offense going on all cylinders, the strong starting pitching staff continued to hold the fort down in the mean time. After dropping the first game of the series 2-1, club surrendered only three runs over the next two contests to pull itself out of a three-game losing streak, and back atop the National League Central.
Yet, as the club moves back onto the road for a four-game series in Milwaukee beginning this evening, they are grinding out wins in an efficient style, but are still giving the vibe that there is more to come. They finished the home stand at an even 3-3, and take back to the road where they have a NL-high nine wins on the year. Yet before that gets underway, let’s look at three deciding factors in the series that just was against their toughest recent rival:
1. Lynn-sanity: Lance Lynn would be a sprinter’s favorite pitcher. For the second year in a row, he’s opened up a season 5-0. And while he doesn’t have last season’s insane 1.60 ERA that he carried through April, he’s on currently enjoying the best stretch of his career to date. Over his last three starts, he is sporting a 0.85 ERA, surrendering only two earned runs over his last three starts, which have each gone seven innings. Over this same stretch, he’s surrendered only eight hits and eight walks, and has not surrendered a home run since April 15.
However, what’s most telling for Lynn is how much better he’s controlled the ballgame via his work rate. In his first three starts, he crossed over at least 94 pitches in each start, despite not getting out of the fifth inning. Now he is staying at a slightly higher pitch count (averaging 107 per outing), but he’s going two innings longer, and working at a much more efficient rate. Efficiency is what escaped Lynn throughout the late stages of 2012, and half of the first month of the year. While the results of his last few outings aren’t sustainable throughout a full year, the more economical approach is, and that is the next step in Lynn’s evolution as a starting pitcher.
2. Freese Frame: 2012 has not been David Freese’s year so far. After starting the spring swinging a very good bat, he was sidelined by a back injury that kept him out of action through the beginning of the regular season. So far, it’s like he hasn’t shown up yet either. He is hitting only .163 on the year through 49 at-bats, with only two extra base hits. Freese has been held out of the lineup the last two games, and could continue to be out of the everyday lineup while he works out his slump. Whether it’s the fact he’s never quite mended from the injury, or is just plain having the worst breaks possible, him breaking out of his issues is key to the offense balancing out.
3. Stressing the Division: The Cardinals are faring well inside the NL Central thus far. They are tied with Pittsburgh for the most wins inside the division with eight, but they have had particular success with the Reds so far. They have outscored the Reds 26-19 on the season, while working to a 4-2 record early on. Yet looking inside of that breakout doesn’t tell the true story of the Cardinals dominance over the Reds so far. The Reds scored all but six of those runs in one game, and otherwise the Cardinals have dominated the series thus far. The Cardinals have only lost one series at home on the season, and have gone 32-3 vs. the Reds in their last 35 series in St. Louis.