The St. Louis Cardinals enter their three-game series against the Colorado Rockies at Busch Stadium with the best record in baseball, winning 21 of their first 33 games.
St. Louis lacks depth offensively, which is partially responsible for their slightly below-average performance at the plate thus far, but the pitching staff -- particularly, the starting rotation -- has more than made up for that. The Cardinals boast a team ERA+ of 122, the second-best mark in the National League behind -- you guessed it -- the Rockies. However, more conventional statistics -- as well as even the most amateur baseball watcher -- will tell you that the Cardinals' rotation is much better, and that the Rockies' advantage in the ERA+ department is largely due to their bullpen. Every one of St. Louis' five starters boasts an ERA+ of 137 or better, led by Jake Westbrook, who has allowed just seven earned runs in 39 innings pitched despite walking nearly as many batters (18) as he has struck out (19).
Carlos Beltran has been the best of the Cardinals' position players to date, leading all full-time players in home runs (8), RBI (21) and OPS+ (137). Most of St. Louis' lineup is sitting in the barely-above-average category at the plate, with only Pete Kozma and David Freese currently below 100 in the OPS+ department. The Cardinals' bench is largely to blame for the team's collective OPS+ of 97; maybe they should stop giving Daniel Descalso, Matt Carpenter and Shane Robinson -- all of whom are the same person, believe it or not -- three separate roster spots. They should also stop giving Ty Wigginton one roster spot, but who am I to tell a baseball team how it should be run?
Anyway, for information on the Cardinals that is actually true and relevant, we brought in Aaron Schafer, better known as the red baron, from Viva El Birdos. We discussed Adam Wainwright's amazing start, the sustainability of a couple of sinkerballers who have been dominant thus far in 2013 and more.
Bryan Kilpatrick: Adam Wainwright has always been good, but a 16-to-1 K/BB ratio? Really?
Aaron Schafer: Wainwright is, at the moment, showing exactly why he's considered one of the top arms in the National League. He actually got off to a pretty remarkable start last season as well, at least in terms of peripherals, though the overall results didn't quite match up in the early going. He's taken over that mantle from Chris Carpenter, of being not only the staff anchor, but a real tone-setter for the whole rotation, and seems to take it very seriously. Signing a pitcher to a long term deal still scares the hell out of me, but there aren't many guys in the game right now I would rather see my team tethered to for the next half-decade than Waino.
#50 / Pitcher / St. Louis Cardinals
Aug 30, 1981
|2013 - Adam Wainwright||4-2||2.72||1.11||48||3|
BK: How sustainable is the success that Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia have been having? They both have very strong groundball rates, but especially in the case of Westbrook, that much contact will start hurting at some point right?
AS: Garcia, very sustainable. Westbrook, not so much. Digging into the underlying numbers, Jaime has always had elite swing and miss numbers, and is more than capable of racking up strikeout totals. This economy of late has actually been kind of the exception for him in the big leagues, rather than the rule. He can get enough outs either via strikeout or groundball that I have no problem putting him up against pretty much any other pitcher in the league on a given night.
BK: David Freese is one of the few players anywhere near the Cardinals' active roster who is off to a slow start. He picked it up a bit at the beginning of May after a really rough April, but is slumping again. How long is his leash?
|2013 - David Freese||21||72||6||15||3||0||0||4||7||18||1||0||.208||.278||.250|
AS: I think Freese has a pretty long leash, honestly. The organization, and the manager, seem to have a fair bit of faith in him, and he's mostly rewarded that faith to this point since some rough times as he was trying to break in to the majors. There has been a little blue-sky conversation here and there about the Cards moving Matt Carpenter over to third (a more natural position for him), and maybe promoting Kolten Wong (second base prospect), to the majors if Freese can't get it going, but Wong hasn't exactly lit the world on fire in the early going this season either. For now at least, I think the club believes Freese on the field trying to really get into the groove gives them the best chance to win; I don't really expect to see much movement on that front soon.
BK: Sample size be damned, Matt Adams is scorching the ball but isn't getting a whole lot of playing time. What's his role going to be going forward?
AS: In the short term, the club will probably continue to do what they've been doing, which is find Adams playing time whenever they can. He's limited to first base, which makes it difficult, but they'll keep trying to get him at-bats. Long-term, I think he becomes the centerpiece for a trade of some sort as he establishes himself. I've been skeptical of him all along, but he just keeps on impressing at every level. The organization just made a commitment to Allen Craig on a contract, though, and there likely aren't going to be any corner outfield openings anytime soon, which is the other area Craig is capable of playing. Ergo, I think Adams' best fit for the Cardinals in the long run is as a trade chip. The opportunities just don't really line up with what he does.
BK: What are your overall thoughts on the Cardinals so far this season?
AS: This is a really, really good team. One of the deepest lineups you're going to see anywhere in the game, and a starting rotation capable of rolling off long stretches of quality pitching. The one Achilles' Heel for this club early on has been the bullpen, where the injury to Jason Motte threw things into disorder to begin the season, but they seem to even be getting the issues down in the 'pen ironed out now. In other words, you aren't going to see many better teams in the National League this year.
Game 1: Friday, May 10 at 6:15 p.m. MT (ROOT Sports)
Jon Garland (3-2, 4.75 ERA) vs. Shelby Miller (4-2, 1.96 ERA)
Game 2: Saturday, May 11 at 12:15 p.m. MT (ROOT Sports)
Jhoulys Chacin (3-1, 2.56) vs. Adam Wainwright (4-2, 2.72)
Game 3: Sunday, May 12 at 12:15 p.m. MT (ROOT Sports)
Jorge De La Rosa (3-3, 3.52) vs. Jaime Garcia (4-1, 2.25)