As the Cardinals rolled to a four-game sweep of Milwaukee over the weekend, several keys to long-term success began to emerge from their slumber. While the starting pitching continued a remarkable start-of-season run, a revamped bullpen showed signs of a turnaround, and some struggling hitters appeared to have found their stroke.
The starting pitching has been nothing short of amazing. Any manager or pitching coach asks his starter to give him a chance to win, and a quality start does that. Going six innings and allowing three or fewer runs doesn’t sound like much, but a team wins 66 percent of the games in which it gets a quality start. To this point, the Cardinals have received a quality start 73 percent of the time. Jake Westbrook has delivered one each time out, Adam Wainwright has in six of seven starts, both Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn have in four of their six starts, and Jaime Garcia, who got another one Sunday in Milwaukee, has given the Cards quality in four of seven starts.
Beyond that, the Cardinal starters’ ERA of 2.21 is a run a game better than Cincinnati’s 3.22. They lead the league in wins, runs allowed, ERA, fewest homers allowed (nine in 31 games), strikeouts (174), and they are third in WHIP. It’s hard to imagine a group pitching better over the course of 31 games than the Cardinal starters.
The reinforced bullpen has made a difference, too. Mitchell Boggs allowed at least one run in five of the 12 games he pitched, and Marc Rzepczynski allowed runs in four of 10. Their replacements, Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez, have each pitched in two games and have yet to allow a run. Plus, Edward Mujica has converted all eight of his save opportunities. Trevor Rosenthal has pitched brilliantly of late (two runs allowed in his last eight appearances, covering eight innings) and the seldom-used Randy Choate has allowed only one run over his 10 appearances.
Now, here comes the offense. After Mike Matheny expressed confidence in Jon Jay at the end of the last home stand, Jay rewarded him by getting two hits in each of the four games, taking two walks and driving in six.
Allen Craig, with only one home run, is on pace for 130 RBIs. While the power numbers aren’t there yet, the production has been top notch. And Matt Holliday has started to heat up, with two homers against Milwaukee. Holliday has gone 5-for-11 with two walks, two homers and five RBIs in his last three games.
David Freese showed signs of thawing out, too, collecting two hits in each of the first three games of the series in Milwaukee before an 0-for-5 on Sunday.
The Redbirds are tied with Boston for the best record in the majors at 20-11, and are on pace for 104 wins. And that’s with a visit to Chicago on tap for Tuesday and Wednesday.
If you look at the standings, you can see that the Cards have performed quite well to this point. But if you dig a little deeper, the most impressive part of the first month of the season is that they’re just getting warmed up.