This week, the St. Louis Cardinals began to show what they are capable of again, at least from a pitching standpoint. But they are still a long way from right.
The rotation of Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook, and Joe Kelly collectively had an ERA just a shade over 2.00 this week, allowing nine earned runs over 40 innings. Lynn had the best start of his young career against the Chicago White Sox Wednesday, allowing no runs while striking out 12. But the rest of the starters looked good, too. Even Jake Westbrook—who has struggled mightily over the past four to six weeks—turned in a six-inning outing Thursday night where he allowed three runs and five hits and kept the Cardinals in the game before they pulled out the win. It may not be a Bob Gibson line, but it is pretty good for Westbrook considering what he has given the Cards recently.
The bullpen flashed a few bright spots this week as well. Jason Motte was three for three in save opportunities; he had a few earned runs tacked to his total but the saves are important there. Victor Marte, Sam Freeman, Fernado Salas and Eduardo Sanchez threw a total of 5 2/3 innings without allowing a run and only two batters managed to even get a hit off the quartet.
Now, of course, the trick is sustaining it and adding some consistency to the mix.
On the other side of the ball, the Cards’ offense continues to sputter. Since hanging 14 runs on the Houston Astros June 7, the Cardinals have managed to score more than two runs in a game only once: Thursday’s 5-3 win over the White Sox. That is abysmal output. And yes, guys are missing and the guys that are in the dugout are hurting too. But that excuse only carries so far. Everyone is hurting right now; every team is dealing with some injury or another.
And speaking of injuries, some of the forgotten brethren on the disabled list appear ready to re-join the big club soon. Matt Carpenter and Skip Schumaker are already on rehab assignments, and Chris Carpenter threw a couple of pitches off a mound. That’s huge news for the Cards, especially Schumaker’s and Carpenter’s.
The Cincinnati Reds have a four game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cardinals as of Saturday morning. So nothing is out of reach for the Cards. The competition in the NL Central does figure to remain stiff for the remainder of the season, but at this point all the Cards really need is a healthy team and a shot at the postseason. And they will most definitely need the former to achieve the latter.
At this point, it does look like the Cardinals will end up getting some of their key guys back in the not-too-distant future. If the rest of the team has put themselves in a position to win more often than not, the return of the walking wounded is just that much sweeter. So it is big to see the rotation settling in and the bullpen settling down. Now if the lineup could only start scoring runs again…