In a year so far marked by disappointment and, truthfully, for some Cardinals fans, agony, let’s take a look at some positives for the Cardinals as the season stands almost midway through June.
Despite the struggles thus far in the 2017 season, there are certainly some “Diamonds in the ruff,” if you will. Here are three things to be excited about at this point in the Cardinals’ 2017 campaign.
Despite being what many considered pre-season to be possibly among the strongest Divisions in baseball, home to the immensely talented Pittsburgh Pirates, the save and consistent Redbirds, and the electric defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs, the season has not gone as planned for the teams in the NL Central. In fact, as it stands on June 10th, the Milwaukee Brewers hold the first place spot in the division, the Cubs are under the .500 mark, and the Cardinals and Pirates are rounding out the bottom of the division in the four and five spots.
However, all five teams are separated by just 6.5 games, and the Cards are a meager 4 games behind division leading Milwaukee. I don’t think anyone expects the Brew Crew to keep their hold on first place as the season progresses into its later stages, which opens the door for teams like the Cardinals to step in. Of course, with the Cubs in the division, there is always a competing force. However, having lost four in a row, and coming off of a home sweep at the hands of the surging Rockies, the Cubs do not look impressive, and certainly not like a defending champion.
So, despite St. Louis playing far below their standard of baseball, as of now, they are in the middle of one of the weaker, if not the weakest, divisions in baseball, which gives them a chance if they ever decide to get hot. Hey, at least they’re not in the AL West, trying to deal with Houston and that .700 winning % of theirs.
The Infield (Seemingly) Has Been Solidified
With Peralta having been designated for assignment, and Adams having been shipped to Atlanta, the Cardinals now have a clear sense of what their starting infield looks like. And it looks pretty good. At third, Gyorko has backed up a career year with an equally as good start in the first two and a half months of 2017, batting a surprisingly high .312 with 8 homers and 27 RBI. At short, Aledmys Diaz has fallen off a tad from his electrifying Rookie numbers at the dish, but still poses a consistent threat out of the two hole. As well, his fielding percentage has jumped almost two full percentage points from last year.
Continuing around the diamond, Kolton Wong has perhaps been the best surprise of all. Despite lacking in power numbers, with just one home run in 140 at bats, Wong has hit to the tune of just under .290 thus far in 2017, bouncing back from an incredibly disappointing 2016, and somewhat silencing critics that said he was not the answer at second base for the Cardinals. Coming off of an elbow injury, we will see if Wong can keep up this level of efficiency going forward into the rest of the season.
And lastly, there is Matt Carpenter at first base. The flipping of corners has thus far not been kind to Carpenter, who is batting just .222 with 11 homers and 32 RBI in 200 at bats this year. Clearly, these are not Carpenter like numbers. I am still one of the belief that Matt Carpenter is the rock of this St. Louis infield, and the leader of the entire team. I would be surprised if he doesn’t turn things around, at least to some degree, by season’s end.
Otherwise, things are looking pretty good for the Cardinal infield, and it’s pretty satisfying to finally know that there is a firm plan in place around the diamond.
Martinez is Looking Like the Ace He Is
After starting April 0-3 with a 4.71 ERA, a lot of baseball fans, Cardinals’ fans especially, were wondering what was up with Carlos Martinez. This was just after having watched him throw an easy 100 in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic, in March I may add, putting away almost every batter he faced while hardly breaking a sweat, and striking fear in the eyes of his NL Central opponents. But, come Opening Day, he was not that same pitcher, and his struggles carried forth throughout the first month of the season.
However, Martinez quickly turned it around. Going 4-1 in May, her ended the month with a 2.03 ERA, dropping his season stat to 3.08. In two June starts, he has dropped it even further, down to 2.95. As well, his WHIP for the season is now an impressive 1.04, when after the first month of the season it was all the way up above 1.50. He lowered this stat so significantly by giving up less than an earned baserunner an inning for the months of May and the first half of June, his WHIP at just 0.70 for his first two starts of the current month. Perhaps most impressively, Carlos’s Batting Average Against is a minuscule .194, and over the months of May and June, it was .170 and .154, respectively.
Carlos Martinez, on a struggling team, is flying under the radar, but right now he is pitching as one of the most dominant right handed arms in the game of baseball. Which should not be a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to him over the last two to three years. With an electric fastball and a wipe out slider, this guy has elite stuff, and everyone in the league knows it. It’s about time we’re getting to see it come out in full force.