The Cardinals have now played 31 games. That’s certainly a fair enough number to draw some conclusions in Major League Baseball’s marathon, 162-game regular season schedule.
Primarily, the Redbirds seem to be doing everything right thus far in 2012. Starting pitching has been consistently strong, the bullpen for the most part has gotten the job done and the offense has percolated from the opening game. And rookie manager Mike Matheny has looked every bit the savvy veteran in making his daily moves and managerial decisions both on and off the field.
When you consider that Chris Carpenter, the leader of last year’s late-season and playoff heroics, hasn’t thrown a pitch since spring training, and that Adam Wainwright is coming off Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2011 campaign, the Cardinals’ starting quintet has been nothing short of fabulous.
Youthful Lance Lynn, who was thrust into the rotation from the bullpen in Carpenter’s absence, has responded by winning his first six contests with an impressively low Earned Run Average to go along with that gaudy 6-0 record. Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook each has pitched solidly in virtually every start, while Jaime Garcia and Wainwright have shown stretches of consistency, albeit not as steady as the others. Wainwright, though, has gotten better every game after initial problems in April.
The bullpen has been finding its way even as it has served well for the most part. Jason Motte has cashed in on most of his ‘save’ opportunities and done so in a straightforward and no-nonsense fashion that has been good for the blood pressure and heart palpitations of nervous fans who prefer quick and easy ‘saves’ to tough ones.
Mitchell Boggs, a lost soul in previous years, has found his niche as set-up man to the closer, with a solid strike-outs-per-inning ratio. Victor Marte has been a bulwark in the bullpen, coming in to fan out rally flames by the opposition with regularity, and Marc Rzepczynski has been a steady presence from the left side of the mound.
While much has been written and said about Albert Pujols’ plight with the Los Angeles Angels, his heir apparent, Carlos Beltran, has swatted 10 home runs already and is neck-and-neck with David Freese for the team’s RBI lead. Catcher Yadier Molina just keeps getting better and better offensively and has become a steady threat to plug the gaps for extra bases. Rafael Furcal has been more than adequate as a leadoff man setting the plate for Beltran, the steady and dependable Freese, Molina and Matt Holliday, who is surging after a slow start.
Defensively, Jon Jay has proven to be an excellent center-fielder and has taken charge of the entire outfield. Matt Carpenter and now Allen Craig have been more than satisfactory filling in for the injured Lance Berkman at first base. The second-base rotation of Daniel Descalsco, Tyler Greene and Skip Schumaker has yielded satisfactory results.
In the early going, at least, it appears that manager Mike Matheny is leading his club with an even temperament and a keen eye for details. He’s shown great faith in his starting rotation and hasn’t been afraid to utilize formerly questionable players such as Boggs and Greene in key roles. He’s also shown the ability to nurture players like Kyle McClellan and Fernando Salas, both of whom were sluggish out of the gate.
It’s a long season, of course, and situations can change dramatically from early May to late September. As former manager Tony LaRussa was fond of saying, though, the games you win early in the season are ones you don’t have to worry about near the end. The Cardinals certainly are doing that.
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