The NL Central is a punch line, the NL West is punch-less and the NL East is completely upside down.
If the first month and a half of the season is any indication, then the National League will be a hotbed for crap baseball in 2012. That’s not to suggest the landscape in the NL won’t look differently come August, but as of right now the Cardinals have a golden opportunity to make another postseason run.
You know the NL Central is in rough shape when the Houston Astros are three games under .500 and sitting in third place. Following their slow start, the Reds are playing better but they have neither the offense nor the starting pitching to match the Cardinals for an entire 162-game season. The Brewers, meanwhile, are even worse than many expected now that Prince Fielder is a Tiger.
When you look outside the Cardinals’ division, the picture isn’t much prettier. The Dodgers are legit but the Giants’ offense is about as fearsome as a box of kittens and the Diamondbacks aren’t sneaking up on clubs like they did a year ago. The Nationals have a ton of young talent and their starting pitching is dangerous, but we’ve seen Washington start hot before just to crash and burn in the end. Regardless of records, the Braves are the best team in the NL East and we’ll see how the Redbirds fare against Larry Jones’ club when they travel to Atlanta this weekend. But it’s not like the Braves don’t have issues themselves. (You can start with their 4.45 team ERA.)
What’s interesting is that the Cardinals have yet to play their best ball. Lance Berkman has been out of the lineup, Allen Craig just returned, and Matt Holliday has yet to heat up. Yes, at some point David Freese and Rafael Furcal will cool off because as Bob “Ron Washington” Ramsey likes to point out on St. Louis Baseball tonight, “That’s the way baseball go.” But this club has more than enough offense to battle through the moments when star players get into slumps.
Granted, let’s hold off on getting this current Cardinals team fitted for 2012 World Series rings. Their bullpen has some major question marks and the law of averages are bound to catch up to players like Furcal and Lance Lynn (who has been terrific, but who has yet to endure a full major league season as a starter). Still, if you’re a St. Louis fan, what National League opponent scares you right now? For a league that has won three of the last four world championships, the NL looks awfully lackluster at the moment.
It’s only May and that means we know nothing about how the dynamics will play out from now until the postseason arrives. But you don’t have to strain to see that the Cardinals are among the league’s best clubs and thus, no free pass should be given when it comes to their expectations for 2012.
The National League is theirs for the taking.