The Cardinals took 3-of-4 from the Dodgers, their biggest threat in the National League, over the weekend. The only Redbird defeat came at the hands of the incomparable Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night. The three wins came in typical, relentless, numbingly consistent Cardinal style.
How must it feel to be a good team and get dominated by Michael Wacha in game one, then carry a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning of game two, only to watch the Redbirds scratch out two for the win?
Then, after Kershaw’s gem in game three, the Cardinals refuse to relent again, trailing 2-1 into the eighth before rallying with three in the eighth?
With the best pitching in baseball, the Cardinals enjoy the best run differential in the game. They’ve outscored their opponents by an astounding 70 runs, 21 more than the second place Dodgers.
But the Cards crush souls in the late innings.
In the eighth and ninth innings and extra innings, the Cardinals have outscored their victims 44-30.
Because of that, their overall record of 38-19 is 4.5 games better than the teams with the second best record in baseball, Minnesota and Houston, and six games better than the second-in-the-NL Dodgers.
Plus, the Cardinals have gone 26-15 since losing Adam Wainwright to injury in late April. There are four keys to the Cardinals’ success.
First is starting pitching, as it is for any team.
The Cards’ 2.83 starters ERA is a third of a run better than the second best starters’ ERA, which belongs to Oakland. Even with Wainwright gone for well over a month, St. Louis starters have amassed 348 innings; fifth in Major League Baseball, and just eleven innings behind front running Detroit.
Second is the incredible bullpen production.
This comes despite setup man Jordan Walden’s injury. The Cardinals’ 2.45 ERA in the seventh inning or later leads the league, and is also a third of a run better than the second best team. The Cards are at 2.45, and Pittsburgh is second at 2.81.
Plus, St. Louis has avoided the crushing home run. The Cards and Miami are tied for the fewest homers allowed in the seventh inning or later with nine. The Dodgers have allowed thirteen, the Cubs have allowed fourteen and the Giants have given up sixteen.
Third, the Cardinals don’t beat themselves.
Twelve teams have made fewer errors, but the Cards are one of the most efficient defenses in the National League. In terms of how they do with balls in play, the Redbird defense doesn’t throw it around, leading to a defensive efficiency ratio that’s second in the NL.
Even though the Cards lead the NL with 23 outs committed on the bases, they’re second in the NL in getting to third or scoring on a single. Their aggression is paying off as much as it’s hurting them.
Fourth, the Cardinals are back to being ridiculously good with runners in scoring position.
The club that leads the circuit in doubles with 106 and has 153 extra base hits is hitting .333 with RISP through the first third of the season, fourth in the NL. The Cardinals’ .263 average in the seventh inning or later is tops in their league, and their OPS of.708 is second to Los Angeles.
So at the bottom line, the Cards are pitching and defending exceptionally well. Their offense, while lacking great power, is efficient and performs in clutch situations.
This team isn’t going to have an MV3 like the 2004 team, and certainly doesn’t have an Albert Pujols-type performer as an MVP. In fact, only the Giants and Mets have a home run leader with fewer than Jhonny Peralta’s Cardinal-leading ten bombs.
They’ve been amazing so far.
It’s hard to imagine the pitching is going to stand up the way it has through the first 56 games of the season, but it’s also hard to imagine that Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward, and Mark Reynolds are going to continue the home run droughts that’ve lasted through the first third of the season.
The Cardinals are dominating all of baseball in record and differential.
Can they keep it up? It’s hard to play .667 ball all season long. But because of the way they’re winning, there’s no reason to think that, if they don’t lose even more players to injury, they can’t run away with the best record in the National League.
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