Uh-oh, the Cardinals have just lose three straight games.
Don’t get used to it, because they’ve only had one other 3-game losing streak this year — when they were swept by San Diego in early May. However, the three games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh look bad.
Still, look at the aggregate stats. Among NL teams, they have the best offense (5.2 runs/game). They have the best pitching (3.74). They have the best bullpen (3.15). They have the winningest active manager in Tony Larussa (2114). And they’re three games better than everyone else in the league. In their division alone, they’re 8 1/2 games ahead of second-place Chicago.
It’s almost not fair. Nobody ever talks about the Cardinals. Yet they’ve averaged 95 wins a season since 2000. They’ve won the division four times. And, oh by the way, they were that other team in the World Series. They were in the way of the Red Sox Destiny, and had the Sox been ousted in the ALCS, chances are we’re all ranting and raving about the juggernaut that is the Cardinals.
But maybe their silent-but-deadly is just the way they want it. Said Larussa to MLB.com,
“I think the worst thing you can do sometimes is get distracted. And good stats distract you, and bad stats distract you. Compliments, criticisms, they all distract you. This game is mostly about concentrating on the next competition. And then, when the competition’s over at the end of the regular season, then you look back and say, ‘Hey, this is what the numbers were,’ and you rank it wherever it was. But we don’t need to get distracted.”
This was in response to a question about their 45-25 start, their best beginning in 60 years. Eyes on the prize, Tony.
Is there any way they can lose this division? With an 8 1/2 game lead, they need only worry about Chicago, who will have their aces Kerry Wood and Mark Prior return shortly. But the lead is almost insurmountable as St. Louis will only get better now that All Star third baseman Scott Rolen has recovered from his shoulder injury.
Aside from Rolen, the Cards have three bona fide starting fielders. First baseman Albert Pujols is the obvious team leader in all major categories — average, runs, homers and RBI — while Jim Edmonds gives fans a great catch almost every night, and shortstop David Eckstein is a modern day Rudy: he hustles given little athletic ability.
The team is chock full of role players as well. Outfielder Reggie Sanders knows how to win — he did in 2001 with Arizona. Larry Walker plays a textbook right field, the position in which he has won 7 Gold Gloves and an MVP. Catcher Yadier Molina is one of 3 catchers to start at least 60 games this year, and he leads the universe in throwing attempted basestealers at a 65 percent clip.
Their starting rotation of Mark Mulder, Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan is, put simply, an entire staff of #1 or #2 pitchers for most other teams. Each have at least 6 wins, and nobody else has had to start a game for them.
The bullpen is even more menacing. Middle relievers Al Reyes, Ray King, Brad Thompson and Julian Tavarez all have ERAs under 3.00. Then Jason Isringhausen is a game-over closer with 21 saves and a 1.85 ERA.
The way baseball is being played in St. Louis, no other team in this league — Washington, Chicago, San Diego, Atlanta, Arizona, or Florida — will have a shot at dethroning the defending pennant champs.
So watch them if you must. But if they slip under your nose, they’ll be one of two remaining teams in October.