Apr 30, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals players including Allen Craig (21) celebrate their 9-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
The St. Louis Cardinals enter the month of May with a less than stellar 15-14 record. For most teams, finishing any month over .500 would be considered a success – for a team like the Cardinals (who are expected to contend for the World Series), it’s not quite good enough. The pitching staff has come out firing, ranking 4th in Major League Baseball in ERA. On the other hand, the offense has struggled mightily, ranking 25th in the league in runs scored. It’s important to point out that the Cardinals have only played 12 of their 29 games at home, which will work to their advantage as the season progresses. Additionally, one month into the season is far too early to start getting concerned – case in point the 2004 Cardinals started the year 18-18 and went on to win over 100 games that season.
Here are my thoughts on how the Cardinals are looking at the moment:
1. Adam Wainwright – Has there been a more dominant pitcher in all of baseball? Wainwright leads the league with 5 wins and has been nearly unhittable, allowing only 24 hits and 6 earned runs in 45 innings (1.20 ERA). The Cardinals’ ace is also striking out batters at a career-high rate, already with 42 through his first six starts. Wainwright hasn’t even given up a run since April 12 vs. the Chicago Cubs, currently riding a 24 inning scoreless streak. Wainwright has had some rough luck in regards to the National League Cy Young award over the years but 2014 looks very promising.
2. Allen Craig – Craig had arguably his worst three-week stretch of any point in his career to begin the year. He was filling the stat sheet with strikeouts and even when contact was made, it was typically a weak grounder or popup. Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny tried moving him all around the lineup (out of his accustomed cleanup spot) with little results. It finally appears as though Craig is ready to break out and regain that all-star level form the league has seen the last few years. In the last four games, Craig is 8-17 with 2 home runs, 2 doubles, and a triple. He is clearly getting locked in which is great news for Cardinal fans and bad news for the rest of the National League.
3. Oscar Taveras – According to BaseballProspectus.com, Oscar Taveras has been a top 3 prospect in all of baseball the last two years. He is currently tearing up the minors with a .322/.378/.544 line to go along with 5 home runs and 17 RBI’s. The Cardinals’ offense has been struggling all season long so it’s fair to wonder why Taveras hasn’t been called up yet. He is a left-handed hitting power threat – the one thing Cardinals’ lineup has been seeking for years now. He can play left field or centerfield, which gives them some flexibility and the opportunity to give him at bats in St. Louis. Taveras is currently riding a 14-game hitting streak in Memphis and the organization would be smart to finally call up him – he’s more than ready.
1. Peter Bourjos – Bourjos was traded from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the St. Louis Cardinals as part of a four-player deal last November that sent 2011 World Series hero (and St. Louis native) David Freese out west. The assumption was that Bourjos would establish himself immediately with the club and be the everyday centerfielder – that didn’t happen. Bourjos is hitting just .160 on the year and has 17 strikeouts in 50 at bats. To put things in perspective, note that Bourjos doesn’t even have a hit since April 15 (albeit in limited playing time). Jon Jay has been heating up lately for the Cardinals, which leaves Bourjos as nothing more than a bench player at the moment.
2. Kolten Wong – A player being demoted to the minors certainly qualifies as a disappointment, especially when it’s a highly touted prospect. Wong was expected to take over the second base duties for this season and beyond but struggled out of the gate posting a .225/.276/.268 line to start his rookie season. I do not often disagree with any decision the Cardinals’ organization makes but this is an exception. Cardinal fans will have a hard time believing that starting a 36-year-old Mark Ellis is going to be more beneficial in the long-term than 23-year-old Wong whom the franchise has high hopes for. Hopefully the thinking here is that Wong can find his swing in Memphis and be called back up in the near future.
3. Trevor Rosenthal – At first glance, Rosenthal appears to be having an effective start to the season with 7 saves/0 blown saves. Those who follow the Cardinals’ closely know this is not the case, as he has yet to look anything like the pitcher who dominated the competition in last year’s playoff run. The ERA is alarming (4.73) but the control has been the biggest issue thus far for the Cardinals’ closer (8 walks in 13.1 innings). The velocity has been a bit down for Rosenthal as well (mid 90’s as opposed to high 90’s/low 100’s) but has shown signs of life lately. When he is on his game, you will be hard pressed to find many closers who can dominate the end of a game more than Rosenthal – let’s hope he can return to level as the season goes on.