The Cardinals are the best team in the NL when everyone is healthy. The catch is that at no time this year will that probably happen.
Chris Carpenter went down during spring training and may never come back.
Allen Craig had surgery in the off season and just came back two weeks ago. He then scorched for two weeks, and promptly got hurt again. He's expected to be placed on the DL before our series.
Lance Berkman played two weeks then got hurt. He's back now, but will surely hit the DL again.
Carlos Beltran has managed to stay off the DL while doing his best HOF Albert Pujols imitation but he's got some nagging injuries, and has not started one game this week. Since he pinch hit last night it is doubtful a DL stint is in store for him so expect to see him hobble around in the outfield.
Those are big pieces, two more big pieces have managed to stay healthy so far, David Freese and Rafael Furcal. If history is any guide, it is just a matter of time before one or both go down the injury path
Yet, they are in first place because this is the deepest team in baseball. Lose Pujols to free agency, move Berkman to 1st base, sign Beltran for RF and they got better. Lose Carpenter to neck nerve injury, toss Lance Lynn into the rotation and they got better. When Berkman got hurt, Craig came off the DL and they got better.
The Cardinals are doing all this maneuvering without touching their top four prospects who will all be playing major league baseball a year from now. If Brandon was doing the Cardinal minor league report, TBLA members would be frothing over the exploits of 21 year old AAA pitcher Shelby Miller, 19 year old AA sensation Oscar Taveras, and 21 year old AA second baseman Kolten Wong. Zach Cox is currently struggling in AAA but that will probably change before to long. Future 1st baseman Matt Adams is biding his time as he puts a .896 OPS in AAA.
Am I being to optimistic about this team? Fangraphs says they have the best offense in all of baseball
1st Base - Future HOTVG Lance Berkman can still hit when he's able to play which has not been much in 2012. He used 2011 to prove to everyone he was still an offensive force, but he's used 2012 to remind everyone just how brittle he is. He's only been in 11 of 38 games so far. He should play every game against us.
2nd Base - Three headed group with Tyler Green and Daniel Descalso getting the majority of starts, with old standby Skip Schumaker still getting an occasional start. This is the only weak link in the lineup.
Shortstop - Rafael Furcal is well known to Dodger fans but we only got to see this version one time, and that was way back in April/May of 2008. That season's success ended with an injury in May, and most Dodger fans only remember 2008 Rafy as the guy who came back from an injury just in time to make the crucial error in the 2008 NLCS. This Cardinal Rafy is currently the best offensive shortstop in all of baseball.
3rd Base - 2011 World Series MVP David Freese started out 2012 like he was Albert Pujols but has since slowed down. In April he had a .935 OPS, in May he's around .786. He has never had more then 333 plate appearances in a single season. He is on pace to smash that.
Catcher - With all due respect to AJ Ellis...........No I won't go there. As of this moment AJ Ellis is the second best offensive catcher in baseball, and using fangraphs fWAR he's the best. The Best after six weeks of baseball. Still you'd have to be a hard core Dodger fan to not recognize that Yadier Molina is the best catcher in the National League. He's done it for more then six weeks. Still..............I"ve got to think that AJ Ellis just had the best six week stretch of any Dodger catcher since Mike Piazza. Wowza
Right Field - Carlos Beltran may or may not play. Whatever, I'm going to write about my favorite outfielder. If you thought 2011 was a comeback year you should see what he's doing for an encore. We all think Matt Kemp has been playing like a man among boys with his .475 wOBA and he has been. Yet, Carlos Beltran is checking in at .450wOBA. Carlos Beltran is 35 years old and has already had a great career. He's never had a season like this.
Center FIeld - Jon Jay was supposed to be the weak link on this team. Somehow LaRussa choose Jay over Colby Rasmus and to everyone's surprise it was a brilliant decision. He has slowed down from his .985 April OPS but his overall numbers still peg him as the third best offensive CF in the NL.
Left FIeld - Matt Holliday is holding back the Cardinal offense. Can you believe that? His OPS+ ranks only a head of the second base group. And he's still got an OPS+ of 117. That is how good this offense has been.
Hell, I have to talk about Allen Craig. He came off the DL on May 1st, and has not played since May 16th. In those sixteen days, he played 13 games, drove in 19 runs, hit five double, five home runs, and put up an OPS of 1.188 good for an OPS+ of TWO HUNDRED TWENTY ONE. I love this guy and wish he was our 1st baseman. On the Cardinals when everyone is healthy he does not even have a full time job.
Oh, did I forget to mention Matt Carpenter. I openly mocked him playing first base when Berkman got hurt. Sometimes I'm an ignorant slut. Another player who could probably start for us at either 1st / 3rd / LF. What did he do to earn such praise. How about 13 XBH in 100 plate appearances.
What to Watch For: What's interesting is his curveball usage. He throws the same curveball regardless of which side of the plate the hitter stands on, which results in a backdoor curveball to lefties and a frontdoor curveball to righties. What this means is he'll start his curveball off the plate away and work it back in against lefties, but start it at the right handed hitter and run it towards the middle of the plate for a strike. Also interesting is his changeup usage. He completely abandons the changeup, his third best pitch, against right handed hitters.
What to Watch For: Jake Westbrook simply is not this good. He has a 2.35 ERA on the year, and a 4.28 ERA for his career. He hasn't changed anything in his repertoire, but he's stranding 10% more runners than normal. The key is going to be making Westbrook elevate his sinker and not fish at the sinkers in the dirt. If they can do that, we could put his ERA more at his career averages after a nice 4 inning start. The question will be if we have the offense to make it matter.
What to Watch For: Like Westbrook, the Dodgers will have to force Lohse to elevate his fastball. The only real thing to watch for is that he ignores his slider against lefties, relying on his fastball and changeup. Against our current lefty-heavy lineup, without a breaking ball, Lohse could fall into some trouble.
They lose Kyle McClellan to the DL, but they have lots and lots of good hard throwing arms. Jason Motte is the closer and does a fine job. Mitchell Boggs and Fernando Salas are the two big right handed setup men. Marc Rzepczynski is their tough left handed man. This is a good group, they were recently joined by Eduardo Sanchez another hard throwing right handed pitcher who had great success in 2011.
I suspect you are tired of the fawning by now. Truth is, I admire the Cardinal franchise more than any other. When a Dodger fan asks where can we possibly find a replacement for James Loney they only have to look at the Cardinals. They give their mid 20's AAA hitters a chance (Freese, Craig, Carpenter, Jay) and it seems to pay off. They signed the right free agents to reasonable deals at a reasonable price. They use their own hard throwing minor league pitchers in the bullpen. Every single one of the right handed Cardinal bullpen arms came up via the farm system. No money is wasted in the bullpen. The bench is easily the best in baseball and almost all populated by home grown Cardinals from age 25 - 32.
That said they are vulnerable to injury and they are hobbling a wee bit as they hit the ravine. Dodgers taking two out of three is not out of the realm of possibility given we are missing their two best starters, we have Kershaw going in one game, Craig is out, Beltran and Berkman are less then 100%, and we are home. I think for the second time this year the Dodgers will prevail over another first place division rival.