With the first month of 2011 MLB action gone by, the Cardinals find themselves sitting atop the NL Central with a record of 16-11. The team is exceeding almost all expectations so far, and as a fan, you can’t ask for much more out of your team in the early stages of the season. St. Louis’ hot start is a surprise no doubt, but equally if not more surprising has been the performance of 35-year-old free agent acquisition Lance Berkman.
Remember back in December when the Cardinals signed Berkman to a one year, $8 million deal? Remember the questions about his health? Remember the questions about his age, declining production, and defensive abilities? There was obviously a high level of risk involved when John Mozeliak decided to bring in Berkman, but the five-time all-star has shown us all that sometimes, the risk is well worth the reward.
After hitting .248/.368/.413 with just 14 home runs and 58 RBIs (All career lows) in 122 games last year, Lance Berkman received widespread scrutiny from many people in the baseball world. It was the third straight season in which his overall production declined, and it was looking like retirement would be in the not-so-distant future. In short, Berkman had his fair share of doubters entering 2011.
Let’s just say Berkman has answered the critics, at least for the time being. With a .393 average, 8 homers, 22 RBIs, and 23 runs scored, he ranks in the top five among National League players in four of the five major offensive categories. He’s the main reason why the Cards rank first in batting average, first in runs, first in on base percentage, and third in slugging percentage. No, I’m not just talking about the division here, and I’m not talking about the NL. These are league-wide statistics. The difference that this man has made in the middle of the lineup is truly unbelievable, especially when you think about how much the offense struggled to produce runs last season. I guess the hitting over fielding sacrifice is paying off after all.
From the time Berkman came into the league with the Houston Astros in 1999, there has always been something about him that catches my attention. Maybe it’s his true love for the game and laid back attitude. Maybe it’s his tough/lead-by-example mentality. If I’m an MLB manager, he is a guy that I would love to have in my clubhouse. The Big Puma is a class act, and that’s all there is to it.
When Berkman came to St. Louis, he was thrilled to play alongside the ultimate MVP (Albert Pujols) on a daily basis. As it turns out, Lance is the one putting up MVP worthy numbers. He has undoubtedly been the MVP of this team to this point, and that’s really saying something when his competition for that honor includes Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and of course, Albert Pujols.
It’s impossible to tell whether or not Berkman can continue his dominance further into the season, although there are no signs of him slowing down. However, one thing is for sure. If he continues to turn back the clocks and swing that bat like he did in his prime, the Cardinals are a dangerous team. Not to mention, at this pace, the Hall of Fame might once again be a possibility for this man.