Tag Archive | "San Francisco Giants"

Home-field advantage could be vital for St. Louis Cardinals

Although the St. Louis Cardinals did not have full possession of first place in their own division heading into play Sunday, they were just three games away from having the best record in the National League, which could be a vital advantage come October.

Busch_Stadium Retired Numbers

The Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates had identical 86-62 records as of Sunday and both trailed the Atlanta Braves by three games for the best record in the league, which would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, until the World Series, of course, because the American League won the All-Star Game in July.

But that nonsense aside, home-field advantage is a strong reward for having the best record. The term includes the word “advantage” for a reason. Part of what doomed the Cardinals in the 2012 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants was the same factor that helped St. Louis win the World Series the year before.

Those winning teams played games 6 and 7 at home where they felt more comfortable and could feed off of the energy from their fans and the home environment.

Now, home-field advantage certainly does not guarantee success. The Cardinals won every postseason series in 2006 despite never having home-field advantage, and they beat the Washington Nationals in the 2012 division series even though the final three games were in Washington, D.C.

But home-field advantage certainly does help, and it could help the Cardinals this year more than normal, especially with the glut of young pitchers on the roster and potential postseason starters in second-year pitchers Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, and rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

Along with a much better record against teams below the .500 mark, the Cardinals other lopsided record is their home and away splits.

St. Louis has played 20 games above .500 at Busch Stadium compared to four games above .500 on the road. Not surprisingly, their stats fall in line with those records.

The Cardinals hit for a .271 batting average at home compared to .260 on the road, but the bigger difference is how the pitching staff performs in away games. The Cardinals’ staff has a 3.29 earned-run average in home games but a 3.73 ERA on the road.

It would also be important for the Cardinals to finish with the best record in the National League because their potential postseason opponents have even more dramatic home and road splits.

The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers pitch to a 3.13 ERA at home compared to 3.47 on the road, and the NL East-leading Braves have a National League-best 2.47 home ERA but a 3.70 ERA away from Turner Field.

The only aspect of the game that would benefit a road team is the Dodgers offense, which hits .258 at Dodger Stadium and a Major League Baseball-best .274 on the road.

The Cardinals also lost three of their four games at home to the Dodgers in early August, but that was also during a stretch when they lost 13 of 17 games that included a three-game sweep by the Braves in Atlanta.

Once the Cardinals got their season back together, they took three of four from the Braves in late August at Busch Stadium. They have also won six of nine games against the Pirates at home while losing seven of 10 in Pittsburgh. Against the third-place team in the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals have also won six of nine home games and split the away games 5-5.

The Cardinals are nearly guaranteed a spot in the 2013 playoffs and have an excellent chance to win the NL Central with just one opponent with a winning record, the Washington Nationals, remaining.

But they also still have a chance to catch the Braves for the best record in the National League, and that accomplishment could make a large difference in which team represents the league in the World Series.

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Flopps: The 8 Bit Baseball Card

I am a sucker for this stuff, I admit.

Flopps

Craig Robinson is the author behind one of the best infographic style books I have ever read, Flip Flop Fly Ball.  Where the book left off, the website took over.

Craig continues his great work over at his site keeping track of what hat he wears everyday and all kinds of graphically represented statistical anomalies.  We’ve featured some of that work here on i70 before, bring you galleries of his Lego Baseball Players and his infographic on Albert Pujols.  Just last week we brought you other 8-bit baseball players from another site.

Today we bring you a sampling of Craig’s newest creation, Flopps.  The Flip Flop Fly Ball baseball cards dedicated to all things baseball.  Browse the images in the slideshow below and then head on over to the site to see the entire collection.  (Don’t miss the Steve Bartman card below)

Use the “next” and “previous” buttons below the slides to browse through all the images.

Albert Pujols

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Albert Pujols is one of the greatest hitters in recent memory. Perhaps he will forever be remembered as he is depicted here, in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

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Difficult Start To Second Half Could Help St. Louis Cardinals In October

The St. Louis Cardinals have unquestionably played their worst baseball of the season the past three weeks, going 4-11 against the four best teams in the National League, but that rough stretch could be a large dose of the medicine the team needs to be ready for the playoffs.

MikeMathenyArguing

Despite the awful finish to July and start to August, the Cardinals still entered play Saturday in the first wild-card spot and 6.5 games from falling out of a playoff position. Therefore, they have little reason to stress over making the playoffs, but a little frustration could add an edge any team needs to succeed in the postseason.

Sure, the Cardinals had their fair share of injuries during the first half of the season. Starting pitcher Chris Carpenter never recovered from his arm injury, closer Jason Motte underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training, Jaime Garcia had season-ending shoulder surgery in May and Jake Westbrook missed significant time while on the disabled list, but none of those problems were big enough to keep St. Louis from jumping out to the best record in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals cruised to a 57-36 record in the first half while primarily playing teams that are not going to come anywhere close to making the playoffs. Their combined 28-11 record against the Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants largely accounts for why the team was more than 20 games above .500 by the All-Star Break.

They began the second half of the season 5-1 in six games against the lowly Padres and Philadelphia Phillies, who were each 11 games under .500 heading into play Saturday, but then they went out to play the good teams in the National League.

And they got smoked.

The Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers would fill out the postseason bracket along with the Cardinals if the season ended anytime soon, and those teams won 11 of 15 games against St. Louis.

Of course, catcher Yadier Molina went on the disabled list with a sprained right knee less than a week into that stretch and that has certainly affected the offense considering he was second in the league with a .330 batting average when he got hurt.

Yet, the Cardinals’ problems have been bigger than just Molina’s absence. The team has hit .260 since the All-Star break, which is 16 points lower than it hit before the break.

The pitching staff’s earned-run average has ballooned from 3.40 to 3.98 in the second half as the team struggles to mix and match starters to fill in gaps left by an intense schedule and more injury problems such as Shelby Miller’s sore elbow that could cause him to miss a start after he took a line drive directly off it on the second pitch of his outing Wednesday against the Dodgers.

But more than anything, the team needs to relearn how to win, particular against good teams it will likely face in the playoffs.

Remember, the 2013 Cardinals are a young team. They have a second baseman (Matt Carpenter) and shortstop (Pete Kozma), who are in their first seasons at those positions at the major-league level, and they have used 11 rookie pitchers. All but four of those 13 players were on the postseason roster in 2012 and many had never spent a day in the big leagues until earlier this season.

Also, every team, good or bad, goes through a rough patch in their season. The 2006 World Series championship Cardinals team lost eight games in a row in late June, and the 2011 world championship team lost seven in a row in early June, along with a 3-8 stretch in mid-August before it caught fire through the rest of the season.

The 2013 team had not had a losing streak of more than three games in a row at any point before the seven-game losing streak a couple of weeks ago. The team had battled around injuries, but it had yet to develop the resilience that only a stretch of losing baseball can provide.

Plus, the team now knows the level of play required to compete with the best teams in the league.

It certainly isn’t fun for Cardinals fans to watch their team struggle, but the recent run of losses seemingly night after night could help the team develop the mental and emotional toughness it will need to make a run at the 2013 World Series championship.

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Very Impressive Weekend for the Cubs

Chicago Cubs fans know that their team will always keep them on their toes. In the last week the team traded away ace pitcher Matt Garza for a handful of prospects, and also traded away slugger Alfonso Soriano in a peculiar deal. That same trade left only Jeff Samardzija as the only remaining member from the 2008 team that won 97 games. Also, the team welcomed prospect Junior Lake to the mix. A brief summary of Lake, he is tall, strong, and quick. In a single game, he showcased his speed with two bunt singles and then showed the power with a crushing home run. Soriano himself said he saw a younger him in Lake. The changing of the guard was unfolding.

AlfonsoSoriano

If that was not enough, the Cubs had to make a weekend trip to the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants to end a ten game west coast trip. Not much could have been expected from that. But then in true Cub fashion, they kept the faithful on their toes and ended up sweeping the champions in arguably their most impressive three consecutive games in the last two seasons.

Friday night saw a great effort by Edwin Jackson nearly lost. Jackson was cruising for six innings until finding trouble in the seventh. Trailing 2-1 and down to the final strike, Anthony Rizzo hit a rocket down the first base line through the legs of Brandon Belt that scored two runs to take the lead and ultimately win the game.

Saturday’s game saw another great pitching performance by unlikely Chris Rusin who pitched seven shutout innings. But the pitching performance may have been by Pedro Strop. In the eight, Strop loaded the bases without recording an out and due up were MVP Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence. Cub fans likely had to turn away at that time. But with two infield ground outs to force runners at home and a strikeout of Pence, Strop got out of the inning without allowing a run. Nate Schierholtz proceeded to smack a home run in the top of the ninth and the Cubs won 1-0. That also happened to be the final score of three other Major League games that day as well.

No way could the Cubs sweep the defending champions on the road, right? Wrong. Sunday, saw lone all-star Travis Wood launch a homerun of his own and also pitch seven strong innings. Strop did his thing again in the eighth and Kevin Gregg recorded his third save in as many days with the Cubs winning the finale 2-1 and capping off the winning streak.

The way the team seemingly banded together out by the bay was impressive. It was a collective effort and everyone did their part. It was a team to tip your cap to. The Cubs now come back to Chicago to face the last place Brewers. A key point in the clubhouse will have to be keeping the momentum going. All the great work done out west will be all for not if they cannot beat the Brew Crew.

Following that series, they face the red hot Dodgers, struggling Phillies and a few divisional games. If the team can put a few weeks of good play together the record is getting close to the 500 mark. It is still a long shot, but can this unlikely bunch catch the Reds or Pirates and at least be in the consideration for a Wild Card spot? This past weekend was a great building block for that. Stay on your toes.

 

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Kansas City Royals: Still a ways to go

After May, it looked like another typical Royals season. But approaching the All-Star break, the Royals are around .500 and within striking distance of the A.L. Central. It’s a position the Royals haven’t been in since 2003, when they had marquee names like Darrel May, Ken Harvey and Desi Relaford (those were the days). The team is playing better baseball, but they’re not playing good enough baseball.

DaytonMoore

Things are getting better. Eric Hosmer is playing like he should. Jeff Francoeur is gone and signed with the San Francisco Giants. Fan favorite Johnny Giavotella has the chance to be the everyday second baseman. Greg Holland is one of the best closers in baseball. The outfield is solid with All-Star Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, David Lough and Jarrod Dyson. All-Star catcher Salvador Perez is the cornerstone of the team and he’s only 23 years old. The offense is waking up. Yes, the Royals are the best they’ve been in years.

But there’s still a ways to go. Besides James Shields and Ervin Santana, the starting rotation is hit-or-miss. One start, Jeremy Guthrie is great, another start he’s lousy. Wade Davis is failing as a starter and Luis Mendoza is back in the bullpen, with Bruce Chen taking his place. The bullpen doesn’t have a go-to guy for the eight inning. Inconsistent reliever Kelvin Herrera spends too much time on I-29 shuffling between Kansas City and Omaha. Giavotella is the everyday second baseman, but after seven games he’s at .208/.269/.292. Mike Moustakas isn’t where he needs to be and Billy Butler is at .270/.374/.407, which is almost pedestrian for the Royals designated hitter.

So far, the Royals can’t get to .500. They had a chance against the Yankees Wednesday night, but lost 8-1, and now are two games under .500.

The trade deadline is at the end of the month and the team has to decide if they want to make a trade for a run for the A.L. Central or stay where they are and hope things get better. So far, there’s no real trade rumors, big or small. It depends how the Royals play the next couple of weeks.

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St. Louis Cardinals face much tougher schedule to begin June

The St. Louis Cardinals have rolled through the second month of the season with a 20-6 record heading into the final two days of May, but they’ll face much stiffer competition as the calendar turns to June.

ShelbyMillerYadierMolina

The Cardinals played just four games in May against teams that have a winning record. They opened the month with a win in the final game of a three-game series against the second-place Cincinnati Reds and took two of three from the second-place Colorado Rockies a week-and-a-half later.

Other than that, the Cardinals played 22 games against teams with losing records and won all but five of them.

June, however, presents a much different challenge. The Cardinals will play 15 games against five teams that have winning records. The first two weeks are the most difficult, as the Cardinals face the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and Reds in consecutive series.

They then get a respite against the New York Mets, Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs, but series against the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics surround a two-game set with the Houston Astros to finish the month.

So hopefully the Cardinals have all of their pitching injuries out of the way. The team thrived in May even though it had to use rookie starters John Gast and Tyler Lyons as Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia went on the disabled list. It also had to rely on rookie relievers Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez when it sent Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds because of ineffectiveness.

Those issues didn’t disrupt the team at all. In fact, it played five games better in May with the injuries than it did in April when everybody was healthy.

But that was also against some of the worst teams in Major League Baseball. Now the Cardinals will find out how good they really are as they face a run of playoff-caliber teams.

The pitching staff will be tested against better lineups, but the Cardinals hitters will also face superior pitching staffs. The Diamondbacks (3.38), Reds (3.28) and Rangers (3.48) are all ranked in the top six in earned-run average, while the A’s and Giants are 16th and 17th, respectively, but are teams built around their pitching staffs.

That means the Cardinals will spend the month facing more pitchers such as Patrick Corbin, who is 8-0 with a 1.71 ERA for the Diamondbacks, and fewer pitchers such as Dillon Gee, who is 2-6 with a 6.34 ERA for the Mets.

Thankfully, the Cardinals established the best record in baseball during their recent stretch against sub-.500 teams, so they have some insurance in the bank if they struggle against some of the better teams ahead on the schedule.

However, these are the types of teams the Cardinals will have to eventually beat to reach the playoffs and then win meaningful games in October.

If the Cardinals post a winning record in the next two weeks, especially considering the injuries they’re battling, they could be poised to put together a season-long record that would rival some of the best in franchise history.

It’s been nice to watch the Cardinals consistently win in the past month, but they are now headed into an important part of the schedule that should give us a good idea about how tough this team will be late into the season.

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Triple Play: Chris Sale, Lance Berkman, Brandon McCarthy

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we examine an ace lefty, a couple of Giant pitchers who are anything but, a pitcher rebounding nicely from a horrific injury, and more. Here we go:

San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum works against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 20, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Who’s Hot?

Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

Sale has been breezing through opposing lineups. Since getting rocked for eight earned runs against Cleveland on April 13, Sale has allowed a total on seven earned runs in his next six starts. In fact, he hasn’t allowed a run in 23 innings. The Angels are certainly tired of facing him. In Sale’s past two starts (both against the punchless Halos), Sale shut them down for 16 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and four walks, while punching out 19. For the season, the lanky lefty is 5-2 with a 2.53 ERA and a glowing 0.92 WHIP. That puts him on pace to win 20 games with 240-plus strikeouts, and a 4-to-a strikeout-to-walk ratio – all numbers are pure gold for fantasy owners. His Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) ratio is 3.19, which indicates that a small regression may be on the way, but it would be unreasonable to expect Sale to continue his current pace. Make no mistake, though. Sale is a stud, and you should be ready to pay accordingly if you’re looking to deal for him in your fantasy league.

Who’s Not?

Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants

It’s safe to say that whatever magic spell that turned Vogelsong into such an effective pitcher in 2011-12 has expired and he has turned back into a pumpkin. Simply put, Vogelsong has been terrible. How terrible, you ask? In eight starts, he has allowed an NL-worst 37 earned runs – that’s more than half the earned runs he allowed the entire 2012 season in 190 innings. He currently sports an ERA over 8 and a 2.67 WHIP. Stats like that will kill an entire fantasy pitching staff. But manager Bruce Bochy is going to stick with Vogelsong for the time being. You should not. The rest of the NL West is a muddled mess, so the first-place Giants don’t seem to believe finding a replacement is a priority. You should, however, if you’re stuck with Vogelsong on your fantasy team. You’d be better off with a middle reliever who isn’t single-handedly destroying your ERA and WHIP categories. A middle reliever might also vulture the occasional win or save.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .121 avg, .319 OPS
Player B: .123 avg, .319 OPS

Player A is actually the collective batting average and OPS for the Seattle Mariners’ shortstops so far this season. Player B represents the same stats for National League pitchers. NBC Sports HardballTalk reported this hilariously eye-popping stat a few days ago. Upon closer review, Seattle’s Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino have combined for 1 homer (plus 11 RBI, two steals, and 12 runs scored). Meanwhile, the following NL pitchers have homered: Clayton Kershaw, Wade Miley, Tim Hudson, Gio Gonzalez, Jeff Samardzjia, and Eric Stults. All of this leads me to ask: how much longer are the Mariners going to wait to call up Nick Franklin? He’s hitting .328/.451/.509 with 4 homers, 17 RBI, 5 steals and 26 runs scored at Triple-A Tacoma. Talk about an instant upgrade. This should be a no-brainer. Come on, Jack Zduriencik. Fantasy owners are waiting, rather impatiently.

Player A: .210/.258/.347, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 17 runs, 1 SB
Player B: .293/.416/.455, 3 HR, 21 RBI, 18 runs, 0 SB

Player A is Josh Hamilton. Player B is Lance Berkman, the man the Texas Rangers signed to replace Hamilton after his defection to Los Angeles. Thanks to the DH, the Big Puma has been able to avoid playing the field – thus keeping his legs healthier than during his injury-plagued 2012 – and focus on hitting. At 37, Berkman remains a terrific hitter. His OPS+ of 130 ranks second on the team (to Mitch Moreland), and he is on pace to hit close to .300 and drive in 80 runs. Hamilton, meanwhile, is on pace for 46 RBI and an average below the Mendoza Line. Advantage: Texas. Fantasy-wise, Berkman was most likely had in your league at a bargain-basement price or a late round due to his injuries last season. He is on pace for around 15 homers and 75 runs scored in addition to those 80 RBI. Hamilton is on pace to hit just 19 home runs this season, plus 65 runs scored and a handful of stolen bases. After clubbing a career-high 43 long balls in 2012, fantasy owners no doubt paid big bucks to land Hamilton on their team. Barring a huge turnaround, he’s going to leave owners and Angel fans wishing they had picked up the Berkman instead.

Random Thoughts

  • After Baltimore closer Jim Johnson saw his team record of 35 consecutive saves snapped last week, he really imploded in spectacular fashion Saturday against the Rays: six batters faced, three hits, two walks, FIVE earned runs, one out. Yeesh.
  • Raise your hand if you predicted that the Rockies would be supplying the Yankees with a consistent supply of infielders this season (first Chris Nelson, then Reid Brignac over the weekend). Notice I left the word “quality” out of the previous sentence.
  • And yet, the Yankees keep winning. How long before the New York media starts touting Vernon Wells as an MVP candidate?
  • Tony Cingrani made six starts, pitching 33 innings with a 41-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.02 WHIP. Mike Leake has made eight starts with a 34-to-13 K-to-BB ratio and a 1.49 WHIP. Naturally, it’s Cingrani being sent to the minors to make room for Johnny Cueto instead of Leake. Brilliant move, Cincinnati.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: The Cardinals’ ace pitched 37 innings this season before issuing his first walk. So far this season, he has walked six batters while striking out 71. Among NL starters who have tossed at least 50 innings, only Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann (9) has walked fewer than 10 batters.
  • Conversely, Boston’s Ryan Dempster walked six Minnesota batters in less than five innings Saturday. Guess that little glove shake before he throws the ball doesn’t fool the umpires any more than it does the hitters.
  • Did you see Tim Lincecum lose his balance and fall off the mound while winding up Saturday night against the Rockies? It resulted in the runner on first being balked to second, then the runner came around to score on a single by Tyler Chatwood (the opposing pitcher). A train wreck of an inning – and a perfect summation of Lincecum’s career the past few years.
  • It’s not yet Memorial Day, but it might be time to stick a fork (phork?) in the Phillies. Getting a runner to third ONCE against a salad tosser like Bronson Arroyo? That’s ugly. I would suggest that Philly unload their veterans and rebuild, but outside of Cliff Lee, who would want them?
  • It appears that Braves lefty specialist Eric O’Flaherty is going to join teammate Jonny Venters in elbow-surgery land soon. Last one in the Atlanta bullpen, please turn out the lights.
  • What a great sight Saturday night, watching Brandon McCarthy spin a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the Marlins. Although it’s his first win of the season, McCarthy has been pitching pretty well this season. His 37-to-8 K-to-BB ratio is stellar, and his FIP rating of 3.74 indicates that he has been better than the results show. Focus on that if you’re thinking of picking him up in your fantasy league. In any case, Saturday night had to be extra satisfying for McCarthy, even if it was against the worst team in baseball. After that horrifying skull fracture last September, I’ll bet he doesn’t care who his opponent is, as long as he is out there able to play in good health. Here’s to continued success for him. Baseball is better with guys like McCarthy on the field.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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St. Louis Cardinals road success could set stage for big summer

The St. Louis Cardinals notched their Major League Baseball-leading 14th road victory Wednesday with a 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs and continued a trend that could pay off later in the season.

BuschStadiumRightFieldEntrance

The Cardinals are 14-7 away from Busch Stadium and have won more games on the road than eight teams have won at all this season. That’s partially because the Cardinals have also played the most road games in baseball, but it is also the type of record that could set the Cardinals up for a great summer stretch.

The team is just 7-5 at home this season, but they have also played just one team in those 12 games that is under .500 for the season, and that’s the Milwaukee Brewers, who are 15-16.

Coming up, the Kansas City Royals will be the only team above .500 the Cardinals will face at home in May before the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks visit during the first week of June.

So expectations have to be increasingly high for a team that has jumped to the best record in the National League while playing 21 of 33 games on the road and many of them being against quality opponents.

Their 21-12 record is also surprising, given the bullpen struggles throughout April, but the bullpen has improved significantly of late and hasn’t blown a lead since Joe Kelly imploded by giving up four runs April 27 to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh inning of a 5-3 loss.

Since then, the team has won seven of its next 10 games and pulled out to a three-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates heading into play Thursday.

Not many people expected the Cardinals to be this good, especially this early in the season. If anything, the Reds were supposed to run away with the division, but they are 19-16, including a 6-10 record on the road.

In fact, the Cardinals are one of just seven teams to have a winning road record so far this season, but it is a large determining factor in success because all but two of those teams, the Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians, are first or second in their division.

Now, however, the Cardinals will have to maintain their pace in upcoming games at Busch Stadium against the Colorado Rockies, New York Mets and the Brewers because this is a wonderful opportunity to bank wins while the team has a generally healthy roster, a starting rotation that is putting up historic numbers and a bullpen that looks as though it can hold a lead in the late innings.

Four relievers combined to give up no runs and just two hits in the final 3.2 innings Wednesday against the Cubs after Jake Westbrook allowed four runs and nine hits in his 5.1 innings.

That kind of relief performance is what it is going to take for the Cardinals to maintain their success. The starting rotation has combined for a historically low 2.25 earned-run average so far this season, but it is not going to be able to keep that pace throughout the season.

But, it saved the Cardinals through the first month and perhaps the bullpen is coming around at the perfect time.

That could make for a lot of fun summer nights this season at Busch Stadium.

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St. Louis Cardinals offense hasn’t been good, but new month offers hope

The St. Louis Cardinals have gone through a 15-game stretch when they’ve scored more than three runs just five times, yet they’ve won eight of those games. So despite near panic that the lineup has forgotten how to hit, the team is still winning ballgames mostly because the starting pitchers have been terrific to start the season.

LanceLynn

The starting rotation likely won’t continue to pitch with a historically low 2.15 earned-run average, which was the fourth-lowest starters ERA for April in franchise history, but there are several reasons to believe the offense will start scoring many more runs on a consistent basis.

Third baseman David Freese is currently in a horrible slump, hitting just .163 with no homeruns and three RBIs, and centerfielder Jon Jay is hitting .213 with two homeruns and eight RBIs. Those sound like great numbers compared to Freese, but the Cardinals need at least average production from both of those spots to contend in the National League Central Division.

The other aspect of this situation is the Cardinals’ opponents. The Cardinals have faced arguably four of the six toughest non-divisional opponents in April, the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals, and every NL Central team they’ve played has a winning record.

This isn’t going to be an easy season no matter how well the Cardinals play. Sure, the Cardinals could have four or five more wins already if the bullpen hadn’t been horrible to start the season, but chances are slim the Cardinals are going to go on any long winning streaks this season. The competition is just too good.

The Pittsburgh Pirates took two of three games from the Cardinals last weekend as A.J. Burnett threw another quality start Saturday, and rookie Jeff Locke shut them down Sunday (which isn’t surprising given the Cardinals typical struggles against left-handed pitchers, especially ones they haven’t faced before).

Then the Cincinnati Reds visited Busch Stadium for a very well-pitched series in which Reds starter Homer Bailey was the only starting pitcher to give up more than two runs in the three-game series when the Cardinals scored four against him Wednesday.

Those types of games are unquestionably difficult to watch when the Cardinals lose, but they are well-played games nonetheless. The offense does need to produce more runs, but good pitching has always beaten good hitting, and thankfully the Cardinals have good pitching.

Also, several Cardinals hitters are unlikely to stay stuck in their slumps.

Freese and Jay have proven throughout their careers they are good hitters who can make significant contributions to a lineup. Freese has a career .290 batting average, including his poor start to the 2013 season, and Jay is a career .294 hitter who has shown recent signs of life at the plate with three hits in a recent series against the Pirates.

Plus, the Cardinals schedule lightens up a bit in May. They will face the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets and San Diego Padres, which are already a combined 17 games under .500, for nine games in the next month. By comparison, the Cardinals’ April opponents are a combined 10 games over .500 as they head into May.

So although it’s easy to look at the winnable games the Cardinals lost in May, they should win more of those types of games this month because the schedule will be a little easier and, based on career averages, the offense should begin to produce more runs, especially against teams with weaker pitching staffs.

That all sets up what could be a fun month of baseball so long as the Cardinals avoid injuries, which isn’t a guarantee. This is the point in the season when they lost Allen Craig, Lance Berkman and Matt Carpenter to injuries for extended time in 2012.

The NL Central is too good this season for the Cardinals to jump out to a large lead, but St. Louis fans should be confident their team will still be at or near the top of the division by the time the calendar turns to June.

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Matt Adams turns potential into reality for St. Louis Cardinals

When the St. Louis Cardinals waged their annual war with injuries last season as Allen Craig and Lance Berkman went on the disabled list within weeks of each other in May, the Cardinals needed a replacement, and their first choice was minor leaguer Matt Adams.

MattAdams

Adams looked the part. He’s 6-foot-3-inches tall, weighs 260 pounds and hit 82 homeruns in his four years in the minor leagues while compiling a .318 batting average. But that wasn’t the player who showed up in the Cardinals lineup in 2012. Adams hit .244 with two homeruns and 13 RBIs in his 27-game stay with the big-league club.

So where was this power potential that made him the Cardinals first choice to fill-in while two players with power bats sat on the disabled list? Apparently it had left Adams’ right elbow.

Adams and the Cardinals didn’t know it at the time, but he had been hampered by a bone spur in his elbow and eventually had surgery to repair it last season after the Cardinals sent him back to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.

And it turns out that injury made a huge difference because the 2013 version of Adams is much more in line with the stories of his powerful approach to hitting and why the Cardinals considered him a top prospect..

Adams crushed the ball throughout spring training. He hit three homeruns and led the team with 17 RBIs in 28 games. He has carried that success into the regular season so far, and at times carried the team.

He got the Cardinals their first extra-base hit of the three-game series last weekend against the San Francisco Giants when he hit a two-run, ground-rule double into right-centerfield in the fourth inning Sunday against Giants ace Matt Cain. He also carried his hot bat into the Cardinals first home series of the season, a three-game set with the division-rival Cincinnati Reds.

The Cardinals trailed the Reds 1-0 in the sixth inning Tuesday against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, who to that point in the game had not allowed a hitter to reach base. But Adams, who entered the game as a pinch hitter, waited on one of Arroyo’s trademark slow breaking balls and crushed it into the rightfield seats for a two-run homer.

Then he did the same thing in the sixth inning Wednesday against Reds pitcher Homer Bailey as the Cardinals cruised to a 10-0 win behind a stellar complete-game performance by starter Jake Westbrook.

Adams is in such a groove right now he has the look of a hitter who could hit almost any pitch out of the ballpark. He is getting healthy cuts on pitches he misses, and most of his foul balls have been smashed into the seats down the rightfield line.

That’s the type of hitter the Cardinals management saw in the minor leagues, and it’s the type of hitter who will likely play a very important role for the team throughout the season.

Craig is still the starting first baseman, and he is in no danger of losing that job. But Craig will also have to play rightfield on a fairly regular basis to give 35-year-old Carlos Beltran enough days off to make it through the season, and that could give Adams enough opportunities to be a large part of the Cardinals offense this season.

Even if he is primarily used in a bench role, it’s always nice to have a player who’s hitting over .600 ready to take an important at-bat late in a ballgame.

Sure, Adams won’t continue to hit .600 or better throughout the season, but the Cardinals now have a power hitter who can change the tone of a game immediately.

The Cardinals thought Adams could provide that aspect of the game when he came up in 2012. Now they know he can in 2013.

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