Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Redbirds Sharp in April
There was alot of talk before the season that the Cardinals would take a step back without Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan, and Albert Pujols. While its tough to lose that much, the Cardinals won the World Series as a team last year. New manager Mike Matheny has the respect of the veterans and is off to a good start in his first month as manager. Entering May, the Cardinals are 14-8 and 3 games ahead of the second place Reds.
They still have a good offense without Pujols, and are second in the National League in runs scored.
The Cardinals pitching has been excellent despite Chris Carpenter starting the season on the DL and Adam Wainwright trying to find his form back. Lance Lynn has been dominant in the rotation in Carp's absence and will be tough to remove from the rotation. Lynn is 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA in 4 starts so far. Jake Westbrook, Kyle Lohse, and Jaime Garcia are all off to good starts as well. Matheny reached out to Mitchell Boggs during spring training and boosted his confidence, telling him he believes in his stuff. So far, Boggs has been the Cards best reliever. Kyle McClellan is back in the bullpen, and will likely be a key guy in the pen this year.
Matheny has also been more aggressive on the basepaths than La Russa was. They've stole 16 bases in 21 chances so far and are on pace to steal far more than the 57 bases they stole all season in 2011. I've also seen more hit and runs than in year's past. Carlos Beltran has already swiped 5 bases, and the Cards should have multiple guys pass the teams leader last season. Tyler Greene led the club last year with 11 steals despite being in the minors half the year.
David Freese has started were he left off last season, batting .333 with 5 home runs and 20 RBIs. Freese's 20 RBIs is 3rd in the National League right now. Rafael Furcal is off to a good start after a career worst season in 2011 in which he posted a .298 on base pct. In April, Furcal's OBP is up to .384 and is a much better leadoff hitter than last year. Newcomer Carlos Beltran has been a big pickup, his hitting, basestealing, and fielding has really helped the Cardinals out so far. Jon Jay is off to a hot start as well, batting .400 and should be OK now after hurting himself crashing into the wall last week. Yadier Molina had a career year offensively in 2011, and could duplicate that this year. He is batting .316 with 4 home runs and 15 RBIs so far.
Lance Berkman strained his calf earlier in the year stretching out a triple, and should be back in a week or two. Matt Carpenter has filled in his absence and played well. The Cardinals have said that Allen Craig could come off the DL today, and would likely take Carpenter's playing time away. Shane Robinson might be the odd man out due to having minor league options, although he's played well off the bench. Erik Komatsu has to stay on the roster all year since he's a Rule V pick, but it will be a challenge to keep him up. Greene is out of options, and Daniel Descalso is a valuable utility guy. Descalso and Greene were supposed to share second, but both have been hitting poorly. Skip Schumaker has took alot of the playing time at second since he's came off the DL. I would imagine that Matheny is going to go with the hot hand at second, and it will likely be a three way carousel all year.
Its early yet, but it looks like the Cardinals are transisting well to the Matheny era. They look like a strong ballclub, and their defense and baserunning is much improved from last year. The bullpen is better than it was a year ago, too. Jason Motte has blown one save, but I think he'll have a strong season this year. This also looks like a team with a chip on its shoulder to prove it can win without Pujols. Matt Holliday hasn't turned it on yet, Craig is just coming off the DL, Wainwright's hasn't been as sharp, and Chris Carpenter's been out and I think all four will make big contributions later in the year.