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3 Early Signs the St. Louis Cardinals Can Win the NL Central Division Title

Jeff SucherContributor IIIApril 14, 2013

3 Early Signs the St. Louis Cardinals Can Win the NL Central Division Title

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    Taking the Sunday late-inning bullpen meltdown and putting it to the side, the St. Louis Cardinals are establishing themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the NL Central.

    The Cardinals pitching, more specifically, the starting pitching, has been lights out this last week.  Until the eighth inning of Sunday's game against the Brewers, the Cardinals pitching staff hadn't allowed a run in 39 consecutive innings.

    It's those types of stretches that instill confidence in a pitching staff going forward into a long season.

    The offense has been coming along nicely as well, led by burly slugger Matt Adams.  Adams finished Sunday with a three-game home run streak, and he is just mashing the ball when he gets an opportunity to bat.

    It was a great week for Cardinal baseball and hopefully, has provided an early look into what this team could be at the end of the season. 

    Here are three early signs the Cardinals will win the NL Central.

Excellent Starting Pitching

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    The starting pitching this season has been pretty amazing to start the season.  But this last week, you would have thought Bob Gibson from 1968 was back in uniform.

    The Cardinals pitched three consecutive shutouts for the first time since 1988

    Two starters went the distance for the shutout, namely Jake Westbrook and Adam Wainwright.

    Shelby Miller pitched seven strong shutout innings in his start en route to a 2-0 Cardinal victory against the Brewers.  Lance Lynn also had a nice showing against the Reds to start a 39-inning opponent scoreless streak. 

    The shutout streak was broken Sunday in the eighth inning as Trevor Rosenthal gave up a two-run home run to Ryan Braun. Unfortunately, Jaime Garcia was again the on the short end of a bullpen implosion, and his seven scoreless innings went for naught.

    It is very encouraging to see how the starters are battling and keeping the Cardinals in games this season.  When Chris Carpenter went down for the season in February and 16-game winner Kyle Lohse left for free agency, the starting rotation expectations were unclear.

    What has blossomed so far is a rotation that is having fun and pitching loose.  As a result, the Cardinals have had nine quality starts in 12 games this season. 

    It's early in the season, no doubt.  But if this kind of starting pitching keeps up, the Cardinals should be the team to beat in the NL Central.

Solid Hitting

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    Mike Matheny has got to feel like he's got solid options every day when he fills out his lineup card.

    Even though Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran are all batting .250 or under, the Cardinals are scoring runs.

    Matt "Big City" Adams has been nothing short of outstanding at the plate this season.  While he hasn't gotten to play everyday, he has taken advantage of his opportunities when they've come. 

    Adams is batting .611 so far in April, going 11-18 at the plate.  Of his 11 hits, five have gone for extra bases including three home runs.  In fact, Adams has a little home run streak going.  He has homered in the last three games in which he has played.

    Home Run #1

    Home Run #2

    Home Run #3

    Matt Carpenter has done a nice job as an everyday player in the field as well as at the plate.  Carpenter, by virtue of more at-bats, is leading the Cardinals with a .319 average.  He is getting on base and setting the table for the big boppers down the lineup.

    Once Holliday, Craig and Beltran start to really hit, and they will, the Cardinals will be an offense no one wants a piece of.

    In the meantime, the Cardinals are still tied for the league-lead in runs scored at 69 and are doing enough to keep them in the game day-in-day-out.

Resiliency

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    One thing I love so far this season is the Cardinals' ability to bounce back.

    The bullpen has been a massive disappointment so far this season, and it has led to some deflating losses already this young season.

    But the Cardinals are putting those losses behind them quicker than they can post the lineup the next day.  After a 13-4 beating from the Reds where the bullpen gave up nine runs in two innings, the Cardinals bounced back to shut down the Reds 5-1 the next day.

    As the Cardinals head to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates on Monday, this loss will most likely be left far in the rear view mirror.  

    The ability to pick up your teammates after a tough loss is what championship teams do.  Someone will no doubt pick up Trevor Rosenthal, Mitchell Boggs and Fernando Salas, give them a good game and tell them to get after it the next time they're on the mound.

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