I've been trying to keep up with watching the Cardinals as they have been in the mix of the Wild Card, but they keep annoying the crap out of me by fending off the Pirates who have been struggling. What did I expect? The true Cardinal Way is to be a pest of a team that always worms their way into the playoffs.
They are a team that always has pieces coming up through the minor leagues, guys who seem to be major league ready off the jump. The Cardinals went into this year seemingly with holes at short stop with the injury of Jhonny Peralta and uncertainty filling out their depth chart for 1B/OF because of Matt Holliday's older age and the uncertainty of the capabilities of Matt Adams (coming off injury), Brandon Moss (still waiting to break through at 32 years old) and Randal Grichuk/ Steven Piscotty youngsters trying to fill the void left by Jason Heyward joining the Cubs.
With that uncertainty, the Cardinals still opened the season hot thanks to surprise rookies Aledmys Diaz who has taken over the SS job full time (until injury) whose .312 avg was a good enough ticket to the all-star game in a year of dynamic young short stops. Jeremy Hazelbaker was a player who grasped onto the the extra OF spot with an impressive early season avg that kept spectators wondering whether he could keep it up. They wonder no longer. His average has tanked under .240 and Grichuk, Piscotty, and Adams have taken over the the non-Matt Holliday spaces in the lineup.
In previous years it was Matt Carpenter who took over 2B whose three All-Star appearances out of five full seasons (his career best 28 homers last year came in his only non-rookie season not to play in the mid-season classic).. He was such a pesky hitter, a slender little middle infielder who could lift a few home runs, that he was moved to 3B, and this year he has become utility player this year as he also logs time at first base. The next in line as pesky 2B is Kolton Wong who always seems to save his home runs for when the team needs them or the Pirates get their hopes up.
The cornerstone of the Cardinals has been Yadier Molina since about 2005. He has won the last eight gold gloves for NL catcher and he has been a decent part of their lineup during that time as well. He seems to have a knack for hitting grand slams. I saw him hit one on opening day of 2010 against the Reds, and recently he hit a decisive granny against the cubs. He has 4 grand slams, the same number as Miguel Cabrera, Ty Cobb, Craig Biggio, Wade Boggs, Joe Jackson, Al Kaline, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Joe Cronin, Tris Speaker, and Don Zimmer. The bottom line is that grand slams are a pretty trivial statistic.
The Cardinals have quite a bit of depth in the power in their team. They have six players with 19 or more homers so far this season and three of them, Carpenter, Jed Gyorko and Brandon Moss are considered players that either move around the field or have someone else playing their main position ahead of them.
Pitching is a little different. In their rotation Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake, and Miachael Wacha all have ERA's 4.45 or higher even though they are all pitchers with histories of being top pitchers. Seemingly, the only two pitchers to have decent years this year are Carlos Martinez and rookie closer Seung-hwan Oh whose 1.87 ERA is establishing himself as one of the most effective closers in the majors.
The Cardinals are in the midst of what has turned into a three team chase for the two Wild Card spots in the NL, but their inconsistent players and weak rotation will probably catch up to them and they will either get left behind in the closing weeks or in the one game playoff.