At this point last year, the Cardinals had the best record in the Major Leagues at 42-22. After that, the Cardinals compiled a 55-43 record and finished as the top team in the National League before losing to the Red Sox in the World Series. This season, the Cardinals are 34-31 and many believe that they have not performed up to expectations. Yet, they sit only four games out of first place and they are only a half game out of earning a Wild Card spot.
To put it into perspective, the Cards were just above .500 at 31-30 at this time two years ago, and they went on to earn a Wild Card spot before losing to the Giants in the NLCS. How about when they won the World Series in 2011? They were 38-28, just 3.5 games better than this year.
Offensive numbers: The primary reason why the Cards have not been able to take off yet this year is due to an inconsistent offense. With 244 runs scored, the Cards rank 24th in the league, and they have not been able to replace Carlos Beltran’s firepower. First baseman Matt Adams, who leads the team with a .325 batting average, just got off the DL, but he only has three HRs and 17 RBIs in 194 at bats. Last season, Adams hit 17 homers in just 296 at-bats. Outfielder Allen Craig, who is normally a .300 hitter, is off to a slow start this year with a .249 batting average and six home runs. Outfielder Matt Holliday, too, has not hit for power, as he has only four home runs in about half of the number of at bats he had last year, when he hit 22 homers.
New Acquisitions: The new acquisitions have not been paid off yet for the Cards, either. Outfielder Peter Bourjos is batting .220 and second baseman Mark Ellis (.176 BA) has not produced at the same level as he did for the Dodgers last year, when he was a .270 hitter. Shortstop Johnny Peralta has power numbers reminiscent of his 2011 season with Detroit, but his batting average has not kept up. Peralta hit .299 and had 21 dingers for Detroit in 2011, and although Peralta leads the Cardinals with 10 homers this season, his batting average is a lowly .232.
Key Stats: The Cardinals are 29th in the league in home runs with 36, only topping Kansas City. Last season, the Cardinals were 27th in home runs. Obviously, the Cards are a small ball team, but a .250 batting average (17th in the league) has not gotten the job done. Most importantly, the Cards led the league last year in batting average with runners in scoring position by hitting .330. This year, they are hitting a paltry .237, which is toward the bottom of the league.
Bright Spots: Second baseman Kolten Wong (.250 BA) is looking more and more comfortable in the Major Leagues, and he won National League Rookie of the Month for May. There is also the prospect that highly touted outfielder Oscar Taveras could take off. Although he is off to a slow start (.194 BA in nine games), his homer in his first MLB game shows how explosive he can be.
Promising Pitching: The Cardinals rank 5th in the Major Leagues in ERA and 3rd in WHIP, and they could get even better as the season progresses. One reason is that starting pitcher Joe Kelly (2.69 ERA last year), who has been sidelined with a left hamstring strain, is expected to return at some point this summer. Furthermore, Jaime Garcia is finally healthy. Additionally, Michael Wacha has a 2.61 ERA this year, which is even better than his 2.78 ERA last year. Finally, Adam Wainwright is on an absolute tear this season. Last year, Waino had an impressive 2.94 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, which led to a 19-9 record. This season, Waino leads the National League with nine wins, has a 2.15 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, and has positioned himself toward the front of the pack in the Cy Young race.
In short, there is no reason to panic yet, Cards fans. Good pitching will keep the Cards in any game; it is just a matter of when the Cardinals proven hitters will finally break through with runners in scoring position.