PHOENIX, AZ - Carlos Beltran #3 of the St Louis Cardinals picks up his bat in the dugout during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Maybe I'm alone on this, but the St. Louis Cardinals are the most boring well-run franchise I've ever seen. Maybe it's because so much of their success is always built on the Kyle Lohses of the world -- Todd Wellemeyer, Jason Simontacchi, Braden Looper, et cetera. Maybe it's because Albert Pujols is gone, and Matt Holliday is as under-the-radar as a great and well-compensated player can get.
All they do is win. Since the turn of the millennium, they've been under .500 once. The last two seasons, they've had one of their best starting pitchers go down to injury before the season started. They don't even care. When a pitcher goes down, they act like you do when Frank calls in sick. You go into Frank's office, see what kind of urgent crap he has piled on his desk, and sigh disgustedly as you add it to your pile. It's like that, but with wins.
And the Cards are 20-11 to start the year. They've scored the most runs in the National League. They've allowed the second fewest runs in the National League. The whole score-a-lot-of-runs-while-not-allowing-that-many gag is a pretty reliable blueprint for success. Here are five things worth noting about the Cardinals' hot start:
1. Only two hitters on the team have an OPS+ under 100
A player with a 100 OPS+ his hitting at the league average. Anything above 100 is above league average. Anything below 100 is under league average. Daniel Descalso is at 78 in 60 at-bats. Tony Cruz is at -8 in 21 at-bats. Erik Komatsu had a 42 in 19 at-bats before he was lost on waivers. Those three account for nine percent of the Cardinals' plate appearances this year. Six percent of the Cardinals' plate appearances have been taken by pitchers.
The other 85 percent have been taken by hitters who are hitting above the league average. Most of them well above. Skip Schumaker? Hitting .313 with a .405 OBP. Shane Robinson? Hitting .318 with a home run. Tyler Greene, Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig … not one of them is having a fluky early-season slump.
2. They should probably have more wins
Based on the number of runs they've scored (174) and allowed (99), their expected record is 23-8. In one-run games, the Cardinals are 1-5 -- you'd expect most teams to be closer to .500. Considering how good the offense and pitching have both been, the Cardinals have been a little unlucky.
3. The offense is getting better
In April, the Cardinals hit .280/.350/.442 as a team. That's fantastic and possibly unsustainable. In the new pitcher-friendly climate, it's unreasonable to expect any team to keep that pace.
So far in May, they're hitting .304/.374/.525 -- that's like pretending Pablo Sandoval has taken every at-bat for the Cardinals this month. Add the two months together, and you have a .287/.357/.467 line for the season. That's not too far off from what the 1999 Indians hit when they scored 1009 runs.
4. They really, really trust their bullpen
Either that or they don't trust their starters. In the Cardinals' first 31 games, only one starting pitcher has pitched a full eight innings. A Cardinals starter has started the eighth just three times. Kyle Lohse has allowed one run or fewer in five of his seven starts. He hasn't cracked 100 pitches yet. Jake Westbrook has gone seven innings and allowed one run or fewer in four of his six starts. He hasn't started the eighth inning once. The Cardinals are completely content to yank the starter after six or seven innings and turn the game over to the bullpen.
5. The pitcher with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio has been the least effective pitcher on the staff
Chris Carpenter hurt? No biggie. Adam Wainwright struggling? Don't worry. Take your time getting things right, pal.
But it might be disingenuous to refer to Wainwright as someone who's struggling. He has 34 strikeouts and seven walks in 33 innings. His velocity is right where it was before his elbow surgery; he's getting just as many swinging strikes as he always has; he's allowing as many line drives as he always has, which was never a lot. The only thing that's different over his first few starts is that he's inducing more ground balls, which is a good thing.
So he's probably going to stop allowing so many runs. His bad start is very likely to be a fluke. If he turns into the pitcher the Cards were expecting, the baseball gods will have to rescind at least one of the guest passes that Westbrook, Lohse, and Lance Lynn have to Club Awesome. It's only fair.
New manager. New pitching coach. Same Cardinals. It might be a little boring, but it's undeniably impressive.