Like a lot of Cardinal fans, I look at this 2015 edition of the Redbirds, the first team since the 2005 White Sox to hit the 50 win mark in 74 games, and wonder if it could possibly be the best Cardinals team that I’ve watched.
With a record of 51-24 through 75 games, it’s the best start since 1944.
The 1985 Cardinals won 101 games and had All Star quality players at every position except catcher.
On the infield, Terry Pendleton, Ozzie Smith, Tom Herr, and Jack Clark had All Star qualities. In fact, Smith, Herr, Clark and center fielder Willie McGee were All Stars in 1985.
Vince Coleman was the National League Rookie of the Year who ultimately made two All Star teams later in the decade. Pendleton eventually became an All Star and an MVP and in right field Andy Van Slyke became a three time All Star once he got a chance to be a full-time player with the Pirates.
That year’s Cardinal pitching had two twenty game winners in John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar, and another starter that won eighteen games in Danny Cox. They led the league in runs scored, and the team ERA of 3.10 was good for second in the National League.
Once the ’04 Cardinals reached August, they had perhaps the best Cardinal lineup ever. After the acquisition of Larry Walker on August 9, the most used lineup had Tony Womack, Walker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Edgar Renteria, Reggie Sanders, Mike Matheny and the pitcher.
The ’04 Redbirds won 105 games, led the league in runs, and were, like their 1985 brethren, second in ERA at 3.75.
The 2015 Cardinals are different than those teams.
As mentioned, the 1985 and 2004 clubs both led the National League in runs scored. This year’s team is seventh in the NL in runs. While this group features a lineup that produces a new hero every game, they don’t have an authentic MVP candidate. In 1985, McGee won the MVP, and Whitey Herzog’s team had five of the top eleven vote getters for that award. In ’04, Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds finished 3-4-5 in the MVP voting.
It’s possible Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta will be in the top ten this year, but at this point it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals having someone crack the top five in the 2015 MVP balloting. Peralta tops the club with an OPS of .843. It would be a major upset if he would get more votes than Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Todd Frazier or Nolan Arenado, let alone Andrew McCutcheon or Buster Posey.
What this year’s Cardinals do have is something no other Redbird edition in 46 years has had-transcendent pitching.
As Post Dispatch writer and 101ESPN contributor Bernie Miklasz noted, the Cards 2.61 earned run average so far this year would be their best since 1968, when Bob Gibson led the way with a 1.12 ERA and a team total of 2.49 caused a rules change; the lowering of the pitching mound.
Since that season, no Cardinal team has had a better ERA than what this year’s team has accomplished so far.
In fact, this Cardinal pitching staff has a better ERA to this point in the season since every team since the 1972 Orioles, who were at 2.31 at this point and finished at 2.53.
This year’s amazing Cardinals own the NL’s 7th, 8th and 9th best ERA’s, respectively, from Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Carlos Martinez. Only the Pirates have as many as two of the top ten. Cardinal starters had an NL best ERA of 2.91, and their bullpen also leads the league at 2.04.
There’s an old adage in baseball that 90 percent of the game is pitching.
You can manufacture runs, but you can’t manufacture pitching. These Cardinals have something no other team in baseball appears to have-great, deep pitching. They’ve used eight different starters and ten different relievers, and had success with all of them.
We’ve reached the point that there’s no reason to expect anything less than great from Cardinal pitchers.
It might not be the flashy clubs that earned the nicknames of “Whiteyball” in 1985 or the “MV3” in 2004, but this team is going to go down as one of the best Cardinal teams of the last 50 years, and they’re doing it with the most important currency in baseball-pitching.
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