Just Before the Break
By James Benoit
Just 4 games remain before the 2012 All-Star break for the St. Louis Cardinals. All 4 are home games, which should bode well for the Redbirds. I’m not going to predict that they’ll be sitting atop the National League Central Division standings by that time, but I’m liking what I’ve seen lately.
So far, the Redbirds have fought admirably against the Colorado Rockies, winning 2 of the first 3. Facing a team that was just 30-48 coming into the series, I’d like to have seen them win the game on July 3, but the bullpen looked good, even though the bats only managed 2 runs. Going tonight are two pitchers relatively new to the MLB circuit. Lance Lynn started the season on a tear, but has cooled over his last few starts. Rookie Christian Friedrich has been a mixed bag this season, with a 10 strikeout game earlier this year against the San Francisco Giants, but 20 earned runs in 6 June starts. Friedrich was an early draft pick, just like Lynn, and both starters have plus pitches. I’m hoping Lynn can right the ship, and find the success he had earlier in the year.
The HOT bats: Matt Holliday and Allen Craig have been absolutely fantastic lately. Since an 0-4 performance against the Kansas City Royals on June 15, Holliday has seen his average jump from .267 to .319, and has 2 HR and 6 RBI in just 4 July games. I don’t think anyone can understate the importance of that jump in play, as Holliday is the #3 hitter in the lineup. Taking over for our former #3 hitter is no easy task, but Holliday has lived up to what the Cardinals had in mind for him, especially lately. Craig has been equally impressive this season, hitting .306 to go with 13 HR, and 43 RBI in just 160 at bats this season. It’s tough to believe he’s already spent two stints on the DL so far this year. One can only imagine what his stats would look like had he played the whole season to date. Also, just a quick note, David Freese‘s 2 2-out RBI last night impressed me. Known for his knack of finding a hole with two outs, his average has jumped 20 points since June 8 (from .265 to .285) and Freese should find out tonight whether or not he joins the NL All Stars in Kansas City.
Bullpen Help: One has to hope too that the recent call ups of Barret Browning and Maikel Cleto will continue to help a decimated bullpen that lacked confidence in June. In 30 trips to the mound for the Memphis Redbirds, Browning boasted a solid 1.89 ERA in AAA before his call-up. In his 2 MLB appearances, he has 3 innings, 2 Ks, 0 hits, 0 walks, a .000 batting average against – impressive to say the least, given that it’s just a small sample size so far.
Cleto, who was demoted in mid-June, now enjoys his second trip to The Show after a recent string of success with Memphis – just one run over his 6 innings of work for Memphis. Though Cleto allowed a run in his July 2 appearance, he has 3 innings and 7 Ks under his belt since his most recent call up. Though the St. Louis Cardinals were just 4-7 in June at home, it’s a pleasant surprise to see them win 3 of 4 so far this month.
The series to follow the Colorado Rockies also brings plenty of promise, because the Cardinals have had good luck lately in their matchup with the Miami Marlins, going 3-1 against them so far this year. The Cardinals are also no worse than 5th in the league in the 4 main offensive team stats of Runs, Batting Average, Slugging Percentage, and On Base Percentage. The only troubling stats to date are team ERA, which could be stand to be much better than the 4 plus it is right now, and Batting Average Against, which ranks 25th in the league. If July and August can be better pitching months for the Cardinals, there’s no telling how far this team can go.
One under-the-radar piece of information is that the Cardinals signed 3 international players the other day who were all assigned to their academy in the Dominican Republic. Luis Bandes, a 6’1″ 200 pounder is said to have solid power to all fields and is projected to be a middle of the lineup player available to play any of the outfield positions. Joshua Lopez, a catching prospect out of Venezuela, is said to be a solid defensive catcher and also a power threat. Edmundo Sosa, said to be one of the best international shortstops both offensively and defensively, also signed with the Redbirds. All three players are just 16, but a few years down the road we could be talking about them the way we are now talking about Oscar Taveras.
Regardless of what anyone says, if July so far is any barometer of success, the St. Louis Cardinals will be just fine, and will be in first in the NL Central when all is said and done.