With the St. Louis Cardinals making a statement early on in 2013, the team is showing several signs that offer a glimpse of what to expect from this team throughout the season.
The Cardinals, as of May 5, have the best record in the National League (20-11) and the second best in all of Major League Baseball. When looking at that record, there are several interesting things to take into account.
The Cardinals literally dominated the month, and with the bullpen's early struggles subtracted, the team could easily be 25-6. With that said, this is baseball and that means you will lose games.
Even the best teams will lose 60 games.
The Cardinals may not have hit that level in 2012, but there are a lot of reasons we shouldn't be shocked if they make another deep playoff push.
Carlos Beltran, the Cardinals' Christmas present to themselves after Albert Pujols left for free agency, has pulled his own weight since joining the team. In 2012, Beltran put up numbers that filled the entire gap left in the wake of the prior offseason.
He's started off 2013 headed in the same direction. So far, Beltran has eight home runs, 19 RBI and 13 runs scored. His average (.280) and slugging percentage (.523) are both already ahead of 2012.
He has the ability to carry a team through slumps when he's on top of his game, and so far this year, he's been able to do just that.
Matt Adams, first base prospect turned big league slugger, wasted little time making his presence known once he arrived in St. Louis to begin the season.
He may not have an everyday position, but that hasn't slowed him down. Even coming in as a pinch hitter, he's managed to stay fresh in each appearance.
To date, he has three home runs and eight RBI in only 24 at-bats. His .542 batting average (13-for-24) and .593 OBP were pivotal to the Cardinals success over the first two weeks of the season with his timely hits and power off of the bench.
With his return from the disabled list all but imminent, the Cardinals stand to be even stronger than they are today.
One of the most talked about aspects of Cardinals baseball for the past two seasons has been their organizational depth.
With arguably the strongest farm system in MLB right now, the Cardinals can tap into a treasure trove of young talent if they get into a bind this year. They've already used it for the bullpen, but their depth goes farther than the oft-touted (and rightly so) pitching prospects.
With Oscar Taveras now with Triple-A Memphis, there is outfield insurance already racing its way to the major league level.
A pair of middle-infielders, Kolten Wong and Greg Garcia, are nearing the point of being major league ready and in the case of an injury, would likely be next in line for a shot in St. Louis.
While they've put some of that minor league talent to use in bringing up Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, there's still plenty of talent to draw from in the future.
Slowly but surely the Cardinals bullpen is stabilizing.
After being responsible for several April losses and suffering some personnel shake-ups, things are starting to come together.
Trevor Rosenthal is quickly becoming the Cardinals eighth-inning go-to guy. He had some early hiccups but has gathered his footing and put together several good outings.
Since April 18, Rosenthal has a 1.18 ERA and has surrendered only one earned run (via a home run).
Edward Mujica, since taking over the Cardinals closer role after Mitchell Boggs failed to own the spot, has absolutely shut opponents down.
Since his first appearance as closer, Mujica has converted eight straight save opportunities and given up only two runs through 29 batters faced while holding opposing hitters to a .172 BA and OBP.
Can he hold the spot all year? If so, the Cardinals are in a great position. If not, there are several guys capable of stepping up.
The bullpen should continue to balance itself out.
There are a lot of things that the Cardinals gain when Matt Carpenter is in their lineup.
First, one could argue he is a defensive upgrade at either second or third base. He may not be a Gold Glover just yet, but he does offer consistent defense at both positions.
Second, the offense he brings to second base is a tremendous upgrade over the 2012 platoon that manned the position.
The only position with a lower overall batting average than second base (.240) for the Cardinals last year was pitcher (.130). The next closest was right field with .273 overall.
Compare that .240 batting average to 2012 Carpenter’s .294, and there’s a solid opportunity for large gains before you ever take into account other factors. He doesn't have to hit .300 to be an upgrade—even .270 helps the Cardinals at that position.
There's no reason to suspect he won't be able to hit that mark and then some.
Since this was arguably the Cardinals' weakest link in 2012, this everyday upgrade should have a major effect.
Jaime Garcia ended 2012 on a sour note.
Between injury and road struggles, it was easy to question whether Garcia still had the staying power that many once believed he had.
Out to prove himself once again, Garcia looks better than ever in early 2013.
Through seven starts, Garcia is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA, 31 strikeouts, 13 walks and has allowed only one earned run in each of his last three starts.
In his last two starts, Garcia has pushed through eight innings.
Given that he was somewhat of a question mark in 2012, a consistent Garcia could be a difference maker this year for the Cardinals.
Home-field advantage hasn’t meant a lot to the Cardinals in 2013—at least, not yet.
Through their first 31 games, the Cardinals are 13-6 on the road with a .684 winning percentage. At home, the Cardinals are 7-5 with a .583 winning percentage.
In fact, they’re even scoring more runs—99 on the road versus 51 at home. While they’ve played considerably more games on the road, they’re still proportionally scoring more runs on the road.
Eventually, that will likely catch up and balance itself out, but at least early in the season, it’s interesting to see that the Cardinals are performing so well outside the walls of Busch Stadium.
One factor that will help them tremendously toward the end of the season is that the Cardinals are winning well within their own division.
Through 31 games the Cardinals are 12-6 against division opponents.
Even in April, those victories are important. Anything they can do to put distance between themselves and the Cincinnati Reds/Pittsburgh Pirates will help give them more leeway in September.
The Cardinals have ample opportunity to gain even more ground with 16 games against NL Central opponents before the All-Star break.
One of the most interesting things about this Cardinals team is that they have won 20 games without relying on the home run.
They’ve had their share, but they’ve also managed to play good fundamental baseball by putting together timely hits and hitting well with runners in scoring position. Currently, they lead all of MLB in BA with RISP (.328) and OBP (.405).
The Cardinals rank second in the National League in runs scored (150) and RBI (141).
While those numbers, along with stellar starting pitchers, it’s also interesting to see the other side of the stats.
These wins have all happened while ranking 10th in the National League in home runs with 27, first in grounding into double plays (31) and last in stolen bases (10).
Eventually, these numbers will likely balance out, but that doesn’t mean you should expect them to falter. This team is definitely strong on the offensive side of the games and as players like David Freese and Jon Jay continue to come around, they should have what it takes to sustain success deep into the baseball season.
The biggest story for the 2013 Cardinals has, without a doubt, been the success of the starting rotation.
Adam Wainwright has taken his helm at the top of the rotation. In the absence of Chris Carpenter, he has stepped out of the background to run this staff.
Wainwright himself leads the league in innings pitched (49.2), BB/9 (0.5) and SO/BB (16.00). In his second season removed from Tommy John surgery, Wainwright is looking to make a statement. So far, he’s done a fine job of it.
Garcia (who we’ve already discussed) is off to a career-best start. As he moves forward, the Cardinals’ lone lefty starter will continue to cement his role with the team and show why he is such a valuable piece to the current rotation.
Lance Lynn, back for his sophomore effort as a starter, looks as good as he did in 2012. He’s continuing to get a handle on his off-speed deliveries as well as his slimmer physique, while at the same time leading the NL in wins (5).
Jake Westbrook, the elder statesman in the Cardinals rotation, didn’t give up a single run until his third start and has only given up one in the two following starts. His 1.07 ERA leads the league and ranks second in all of MLB.
There’s not much more one could ask for from their No. 4 starter—except maybe what they’re getting from their number five man.
Shelby Miller is quickly living up to the high expectations that arrived in St. Louis long before his plane finally touched down.
Miller (4-2), despite his young age and appearance, looks like a veteran on the mound. He has great velocity, location and doesn’t seem easily shaken as some were concerned with early in 2012.
It’s not just about good starts, but about depth. When a team is seeing ace-quality appearances from their fourth and fifth starters, there is little anyone is going to do to stop them.
Eventually, this rotation will begin to show signs of being human, but they could slip some and still be arguably the best starting staff in baseball.
The 2013 Cardinals, likely better than the 2012 team, has what it takes to be playing baseball deep into October.