That’s right. The magic number for the Cardinals to eliminate the Chicago Cubs from the NL Central division title is 135. That would still leave the Cubs with a shot at the wild card, but it really is never too early to start taking shots at how bad the Cubs are. Why? Why not? Also, the Cubbies probably won’t be the loveable losers for much longer, and that Alfonso Soriano contract does not last forever.
Sure, it is far too early to talk about a team making the playoffs, but you have to consider how the Cardinals have made it this far. Look at what has gone right for the team:
- The team is 4th in the league in runs with 111, 3rd in batting with a .278 team average, 3rd in OBP at .347, and 4th overall in slugging at .447.
- David Freese basically picked up where he left off in October and has 5 hr with 20 rbi while batting .333/.375/.560/.935.
- Jon Jay is hitting .400.
- Mitchell Boggs already has 6 holds in 22 games the team has played.
- Jake Westbrook went from roster fodder/long man in the playoffs to the team leader in ERA at 1.30.
- Kyle Lohse already has 4 wins which may only be rendered slightly less impressive by the fact that Lance Lynn also has 4 wins.
- With Berkman down, Matt Carpenter has filled in admirably with 14 rbi and some timely hitting.
Perhaps more important is the potential positive momentum to be gained by both a return to health or a return to form by some key players.
- When you can go 14-8 with your #3 hitter hitting just .215, you have accomplished something.
- That “something” is even more impressive when you consider that the team is missing a big bat in the middle that would normally be wielded by the switch-hitting Lance Berkman who was hitting .348 prior to being taken out by injury.
- Allen Craig has not played a single inning, and he’s a right-handed hitter with power that the team desperately needs.
- Chris Carpenter still has no timetable set for his return, and his eventual return should bolster an already solid rotation. His injury could actually be a blessing in disguise after all the innings Carp has pitched over the last several years. Maybe an abbreviated season will mean a lot less mileage on his body come August and September.
- Adam Wainwright probably won’t spend the entire year hovering above a 7.00 ERA. He may not get it into the 3.00 neighborhood, but he may just be a month or so from being a legitimate #2 or #3 type starter.
Finally, the work the Cardinals have done within their own division so far should not be overlooked. The team has started by taking care of business in a big way.
- 3-3 vs the Cubs (10-5 in 2011)
- 4-2 vs the Reds (6-9 in 2011)
- 4-2 vs the Brewers (9-9 in 2011)
- 2-1 vs the Pirates (9-7 in 2011)
By my count, that is 34-30 against those 4 division rivals in 2011, and a 13-8 start in 2012 looks like a lot better track to follow. Before Cardinal fans get too excited, though, I want to remind everybody that the 2011 team was 15-11 at the end of April 29th, 2011. They led Milwaukee at that time by 1 1/2 games, and they eventually faded to lose the division by a half dozen and barely make the playoffs. In other words, it’s a long season. Fortunately, it may very well be an even longer season for all the Brewers fans talking smack after their favorite team took 1 of 3 over the weekend.
TIDBIT: The pose used for the image at the top of this article was intended to honor Chris Duncan and his famous “Large Baseball Player Dry Humping World Series Trophy” photo from 2006.
MORE BITS OF TID: Say what you will about Jaime Garcia‘s mental makeup, but he only surrendered 3 runs in 7.0 innings which is pretty good, even when the other team is starting Zack Greinke. When your opponent starts their ace, and you hold them to 3 runs, you have make every opportunity count. The Cardinals failed at that on several counts today, and the only real mistake Garcia made was hearing “home” when Oquendo probably yelled “tag up”. Wouldn’t be the first time the Cardinals have had communications problems.
FINAL TID: Just a theory with no research at all, but I suspect the 2012 Brewers are less susceptible to left-handed starters than the 2011 version was. The percentage of big power expected to come from the right side now has to be significantly higher than it was last season. On the other side of that coin, this likely makes them more susceptible to right-handed pitchers, and that is certainly good news for the Cardinals.
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