2013 record: 48-30, tied for first in NL Central
Run differential: plus-113
What makes them great?
From top to bottom, the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching staff exudes excellence.
Rotation leaders Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller have the precise command, endurance and consistency that teams need from starters as the season progresses. In terms of workload and whiff rate, Lance Lynn is right alongside them.
In the bullpen, Randy Choate is a dependable lefty specialist who perennially excels with the platoon advantage. At the end of games, the Cardinals have a powerful duo in Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal. Their combined strikeout-to-walk ratio through 68 appearances has been 8.20, which is beyond unfair.
St. Louis instills a selfless approach within its young hitters and emphasizes driving in runs however possible.
"Don't try to do too much" might as well be the mantra.
The results speak for themselves. The Cards are scoring significantly more runs than other NL teams that play home games at a reasonable altitude. Collectively, they own a .337/.408/.463 batting line with runners in scoring position, and a slash line of .388/.403/.597 with the bases loaded.
Elite teams typically are strong up the middle, as Zachary D. Rymer illustrates. The catcher/second baseman/shortstop/center fielder units on the 2008-12 World Series winners were indispensable, just like the quartet on this St. Louis team.
As of June 28, Baseball-Reference.com estimates the total WAR of Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Pete Kozma and Jon Jay at 7.6 WAR. FanGraphs also holds them in high regard (7.9 WAR). Assuming those values double by season's end, the 2013 Cardinals would have another thing in common with recent champs.
Intangibles matter, too. Those who didn't begin their careers with the franchise—like Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday—were known as great clubhouses presences during their previous stops.
What should they be worried about?
Pinch-hitting can sometimes be the difference between winners and losers in the National League. The only two reserve players who can do it effectively on the Cardinals—Matt Adams and Daniel Descalso—both bat left-handed.
Unless Ty Wigginton shakes off his season-long mediocrity, a series of unfortunate late-inning matchups could send St. Louis home without a pennant.
This club's aforementioned awesomeness with RISP comes with an "unsustainable" disclaimer. The .319 BABIP these guys posted during their first 78 contests will inevitably tumble, regardless of their innovative mindsets and mechanically sound swings.
The Cards thrive or die based on what Molina does. The soon-to-be 31-year-old continues to perform at a Hall of Fame level, and manager Mike Matheny can't get enough.
Molina set a career high in plate appearances last season under his watch. He's projected to shatter that in 2013, not to mention catch more innings than ever before.
Perhaps Matheny should exercise caution now, just to ensure that the tires aren't flat when he needs to accelerate.
Who can make an impact down the stretch?
From the DL: Chris Carpenter.
From the minors: Carlos Martinez, Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong.