St. Louis Cardinals Biggest Winners, Losers of the First Half of the Season

Corey Noles@@coreynolesCorrespondent IJune 27, 2013

St. Louis Cardinals Biggest Winners, Losers of the First Half of the Season

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    With the halfway point of the season upon us, it's time to take a look back at the first half of the St. Louis Cardinals 2013 season.

    The Cardinals share the top spot of the National League Central Division with the Pittsburgh Pirates as I'm writing this and are on pace for their first 100-win season since 2005.

    Throughout the first half of the season, the Cardinals have weathered injury and bullpen problems that would have squashed the hopes of almost any other team in the league. The depth of their farm system and a record number of MLB debuts have been the glue that has held the Cardinals together.

    For a while, it seemed as if every pitcher they promoted was unhittable. Of course, that was necessary given the monumental collapse of Mitchell Boggs as he worked to fill the gap left by closer Jason Motte's season-ending elbow injury.

    Injuries to Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Rafael Furcal only served to further problems, but at the halfway point, the Cardinals are teaching a lesson in perseverance.

    Despite being 1-4 over their last five games, there is little to be concerned about at this point. Truthfully, it's the closest thing to a slump the Cardinals have seen this year.

    Following is a list of the Cardinals biggest winners and losers through the halfway point of the 2013 season.

Winner: Allen Craig

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    After signing a five year/$31 million extension with the Cardinals, first baseman Allen Craig is quickly reminding the team why they wanted to lock him up.

    Except in 2013 he's doing it in a different way.

    Craig had serious power in 2012, hitting 22 home runs in only 119 games. While his home run totals are lower than typical this season, he's more than making up for it with his consistency.

    Craig is batting .320/.360/.473 with 17 doubles. His strikeout total is high, but his 62 RBI more than make up for the difference.

    The real blessing the Cardinals have received from Craig is his .455 batting average with runners in scoring position. Typically, this is the kind of thing that would be brushed off as a fluke, but at the season's midway point it's becoming a trend.

Winner: Yadier Molina

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    Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is up to his usual tricks, but with an extra edge this year.

    Molina has for several years been considered by most to be the game's best catcher. In recent years, however, he's grown offensively to the point that he has the NL's best batting average (.357.)

    Molina's highlights include a .400 OBP, 26 doubles and 44 RBI.

    He's kept his strikeout total quite reasonable and continues to put together quality at bats.

    Molina is well on his way to becoming not just the Cardinals MVP, but possibly the NL MVP.

Loser: Ty Wigginton

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    The Cardinals signed Ty Wigginton during the offseason as a potential bench bat and backup third baseman.

    Offensively, Wigginton has been the worst hitter on the roster. He's batting .173 at midseason with only two extra base hits.

    In his defense, playing time has been at a premium with Matt Carpenter and Daniel Descalso spelling David Freese when necessary.

    Wigginton, in the first year of a two-year contract, will have to come to life at some point soon, or he could become a serious liability as the Cardinals make a run toward the postseason.

Winner: Shelby Miller

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    After years of waiting, the Cardinals are finally getting their first prolonged look at rookie pitcher Shelby Miller.

    So far, he's been everything they hoped he would be.

    Miller is currently 8-5 with a 2.35 ERA. In 92 innings pitched, he has struck out 101 batters and held opposing hitters to a .212 batting average.

    He's shown an impressive level of maturity on the mound by pitching out of jams and not being too shaken up after surrendering a home run here and there.

    If the first half of 2013 is illustrative of what the Cardinals have in Shelby Miller, then he will be fun to watch for many years to come.

Loser: Jon Jay

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    Center fielder Jon Jay is still one of the top defensive outfielders in the National League. No one is disputing that fact.

    His offense is the question. The same player who last year stepped up and dominated in the leadoff position has this year struggled to reach a .250 batting average.

    Jay has battled with various flaws in his mechanics that have, over time, caught up with him. Regardless, he's not playing up to his ability.

    In his stead, Matt Carpenter has stepped up and taken serious ownership at the top of the lineup. Jay still has time to come around, but with a potential outfield logjam in the future, he will need to find his swing soon.

Winner: Matt Carpenter

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    Matt Carpenter may not be the Cardinals biggest winner of the first half, but he has hands down been the team's most pleasant surprise.

    Expected to begin the season as the team's starting second baseman, Carpenter has still spent a lot of time at third base. While third is his natural position, he's quickly becoming one of the league's best second basemen both offensively and defensively.

    What he brings to the team on offense is a leadoff man who gets on base consistently (.396 OBP) and leads the team in walks (34) and runs scored (58.) Those are key categories a leadoff hitter.

    Carpenter is quickly putting to rest any possibility of being a bench player.

Loser: Jaime Garcia

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    Cardinals left-handed starting pitcher Jaime Garcia was plagued by injury problems in the latter half of 2012, and 2013 has been no exception.

    Garcia, who looked like he was returning to form in April, compiled a 5-2 record with a 3.58 ERA before being shut down. Garcia's shoulder has knocked him out of the equation for 2013.

    Having signed an extension prior to the 2012 season, Garcia has been unable to take to the mound consistently and put up the type of numbers he did early in his career.

    At this point, it appears the Cardinals are the real losers in this deal. If he returns next year healthy, he will have a chance to change that perception.

Winner: Edward Mujica

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    If Matt Carpenter was the biggest offensive surprise, Edward Mujica is undoubtedly the most welcome surprise among Cardinals pitchers.

    Considered a strict seventh inning arm earlier in his career who gave up quite a few home runs, Mujica has completely transformed since donning the Cardinals jersey near the 2012 trade deadline.

    When the Cardinals bullpen was in a face-first downhill tumble in April, Mujica stepped up and became a closer.

    Only he's not just an adequate closer—he's been fantastic.

    Mujica is 21-for-21 in save opportunities with a 2.20 ERA. The deceptive movement on his fastball has improved and as a result he's walked only two batters this year and surrendered only eight earned runs.

    Can he keep this up all season? While it is a question worth asking, there's little reason to expect anything less from him in the second half.

Loser: Mitchell Boggs

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    In 2012, Mitchell Boggs was arguably the league's most consistent setup man.

    In 2013, he became baseball's worst closer. It was painful to watch Boggs's collapse after such a solid effort in his prior season. Boggs blew three saves in only five opportunities.

    Plenty of his runs came in non-save situations where he was brought into a game with a hefty lead to take off the pressure.

    Boggs managed an 11.05 ERA with 18 earned runs in 14 innings.

    Now in his second demotion of the year to Triple-A Memphis, Boggs may not return to the big leagues in a Cardinals uniform.

Winner: Adam Wainwright

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    Before the first pitch of 2013, Adam Wainwright went from being a co-ace pitcher to the Cardinals' lone ace.

    Wainwright, who was still looking to show that Tommy John surgery hadn't taken away his talent, has pitched like a man on a mission in 2013. The first pitcher to reach 10 wins, Wainwright has a 2.31 ERA with 106 strikeouts over 116 innings pitched.

    To date, he has pitched three complete games and appears upset every time he steps off of the mound before the last out.

    He appears to be channeling his inner bulldog this season, much like Chris Carpenter has done for years.

    After falling just short in Cy Young Award voting twice, Wainwright looks to be on a mission. If he can keep up at his current pace he just might make it happen this time.

Winner: Carlos Beltran

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    In the final year of his two-year contract with the Cardinals, Carlos Beltran is playing like it's 2006 all over again.

    Beltran is batting a .308/.349/.546 line with 18 home runs. He still hits consistently for both power and average.

    With 48 RBI on top of his other numbers, he has quickly become the team's offensive anchor alongside Molina and Craig. A move to the third slot in the lineup this season further illustrates his value to this club.

    If he continues at his current pace, Beltran will make the Cardinals decision regarding his free agency quite difficult. There are already complicated dynamics at play with the Craig/Matt Adams block and Oscar Taveras rapidly approaching the major leagues.

    Beltran would further compound those issues, but if he reaches 35+ home runs and 95 RBI, can they really afford to let him leave?