Is It Possible the Cardinals Are an Elite Team?

Disclaimer: I am not saying the Cardinals are, in fact, an elite team. I am not saying that I think they will be an elite team at any point this season. What I am doing is asking a simple question. Is it possible that they’re significantly better than any of us thought they were coming out of Spring Training?

Look, I know they’re 7-0 against Cincinnati and 6-8 against everyone else. I know Mike Matheny confounds many of us with his bullpen management and his, ahem, “affinity” for double switches involving middle of the order hitters. I know there are 141 more games to play.

All of those things said, consider that they’re 13-8 despite the following factors:

* Dexter Fowler is hitting under .200 with an OPS (.652) that is 140 points below his career average.

* Matt Carpenter is hitting under .200 with an OPS (.641) that is 192 points below his career average.

* Marcell Ozuna is hitting .247 with just 4 extra base hits and an OPS (.616) that is 175 points below his career average and a mind-blowing 307 points below his OPS from last year.

* Kolten Wong is hitting .146 with Kozma-esque .489 OPS.

* Paul DeJong is striking out in 40% of his at-bats and is on pace to whiff 239 times. The all-time record is 223 strikeouts by Mark Reynolds in 2009.

* Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright have a combined 2 Quality Starts in 7 games.

* Matt Bowman, Greg Holland and Tyler Lyons all have ERA’s above 6.00 and combined they’ve allowed 44 base runners in just 22 1/3 IP.

I mean…they come into this week in 1st place with a 13-8 record despite ALL OF THAT???

Before you go complaining that “it’s all because they’ve whipped up on the Reds” keep in mind that the Cubs are 2-3 so far in games against the Reds and the Marlins and that the Brewers, who have the longest active winning streak in the Majors, are 6-1 in games against the Reds and Marlins. In other words, the Cardinals have had roughly the same number of games against bottom feeders as either of their two main competitors in the NL Central.

We all have to acknowledge that some of the hot starters – Yadier Molina, Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez, Carlos Martinez, Bud Norris, Jordan Hicks, etc. – will have their rough spots. They will all struggle, some more than others, but all of the guys listed above with all of those horrible numbers will bounce back too. Maybe all the way back to their career norms, maybe not, but they will all get significantly better at some point.

Toss in Jack Flaherty’s dominance at Triple-A, Alex Reyes’ continued progress toward his return from Tommy John and the overall strength of the Memphis Redbirds and this could be – COULD BE – a damn fun ride the rest of the year.

I’m not convinced this team is elite. In fact, I’m not changing my preseason prediction of a 90 win season.

But still…13-8 is a 100 win pace.

It’s way too early to read into this definitively but I don’t think it’s too early to ask whether or not we’ll all be wrong.

Could this end up being an elite team?

I’m not ready to go there but we’ll see.

More: Complain All You Want About Cardinals Ownership, But Things Could Be a Lot Worse