Major League Baseball | National Hockey League | St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals Still Finding Their Stride

Despite having the best record in baseball at 37-19, the Cardinals obviously still haven’t played up to their full capabilities. Matt Holliday, ostensibly their best hitter, has a .244 average and a .743 OPS, while his career numbers are a much more robust .310 and .917. David Freese, a career .292 hitter with a .797 OPS, is hitting .256 with an OPS of .690. Sure, guys like Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Pete Kozma are meeting or exceeding their offensive expectations, but nobody is having a crazy offensive first half that looks like an outlier.

The starting pitching has been stellar, and since the first couple of weeks of the season the bullpen has been reliable. My point is, I don’t think the Cardinals have come about the best record in baseball by fluke. I believe their unit is as good as anybody’s, and that it’s reasonable to expect them to have the best record in baseball this season. Jake Westbrook is headed out to a rehab stint and should return in the next couple of weeks. Chris Carpenter may return. We don’t know what Fernando Salas will be when he returns. Of course, Jason Motte and Jaime Garcia will miss the season, and John Gast is a wild card. But it’s fair for the Cardinals to think reinforcements are on the way.

They have 106 games left, and even if they go 53-53 the rest of the way, they’ll win 90 games. Last year’s club won 88 to make the playoffs. It’ll probably take 95 wins to avoid playing the one-game wild-card playoff, but the Redbirds are more than capable of that.

*I’m perplexed about Yadier Molina and Mike Matheny being thrown out by fill-in umpire Clint Fagan. Molina was mad at himself, apparently for not getting out of the box as fast as he could have, and spiked his helmet. He didn’t say anything as he crossed first base. Fagan should not have tossed him. The person who instigated the entire fracas was the umpire, of whom Matheny said, “I just don’t understand how that call can be made if you’re not out looking for it, especially from a young umpire. It’s frustrating, because that changed the game for us.”

Bottom line: Players, as Matheny noted, should be passionate and care about the results. It might be hard for umpires, but they should be cool throughout. There’s no good reason to eject a player – especially the MVP of the team with the best record in baseball – simply for throwing his helmet down. If Matheny and/or Molina are suspended or fined, Fagan should be, too.

Other observations from the weekend of sports:

*How about the NHL taking pains to make sure that every playoff game is shown on national TV, but now it has scheduled Chicago and L.A. to play three games in four nights in the conference finals? Chicago had a two-day break in the first round and two, two-day breaks in the second. L.A. played every other day in the first round and then had two, two-day breaks in the series against San Jose. I understand that the United Center is tied up with a Rolling Stones concert on Monday night. But the NHL could have played Game 2 on Tuesday night, which would be a two-day break, then played Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Sunday in L.A. If the league cared more about its product than being driven by NBC television, it could move away from a ridiculous regular-season schedule in the season’s most important time.

*Do you ever wonder what life would have been like for the Blues if, in the 2006 draft, they would have taken T.J. Oshie’s North Dakota teammate, Jonathan Toews, rather than Erik Johnson? Sure, they wanted the next Chris Pronger, and Johnson was the consensus as the top pick. But Toews would have looked good wearing the Blue Note for the last six years.

*It would be hypocritical of me to criticize the Rams having four of their 2012 draft class of 10 players get in trouble so far. Sure, Isaiah Pead, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Rokevious Watkins have had their issues. But I was a fan of Steve Spagnuolo’s “four pillars” approach that brought in Bradley Fletcher, Darell Scott, Greg Salas and Jason Smith, among others. That didn’t work. With that history, I’m on board with taking some chances on gifted but troubled players late in or after the first round. The Rams had a first-round grade on Jenkins, a second-round grade on Johnson and a top-15 grade on this year’s 30th pick, Alec Ogletree. Give me the chance for greatness on the field over the chance of greatness off of it, but no chance to produce for the Rams

*You have to wonder if Tiger Woods’ Memorial Day vacation with Lindsey Vonn and his kids had an effect on his performance at the Memorial. It was his worst performance ever. He didn’t practice last weekend. He says he will as he gets ready for the U.S. Open. He won’t be the favorite coming in, and that might be a good thing for him. Historically, Tiger plays better with a chip on his shoulder. He should have a big one there at Merion in two weeks.