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Catching up with the Cardinals

May 1, 2011

If you would ask most Cardinal fans about the month of April many would offer four-word expletives toward Ryan Franklin and some other members of the bullpen. But while some look at the negatives of April, let us look at the positives of the first month of the season, which produced many.

HITTING

  • The Cards sit at 16-12 through one game in May. They’re 7-3 in their last 10 games and have the most runs scored and best run differential of any NL team. Their 149 runs scored is good for tops in the Majors and their +37 run differential is second to only the Indians.
  • The Cards also rank first in batting average and on base percentage, and third in slugging.
  • Leading the offensive barrage for the Cardinals is Lance Berkman. Berk has eight homers, nine doubles, 23 runs and 23 RBIs in 24 games. Berk didn’t have eight homers last year until July 4th.
  • After missing seven games in early April because of an appendectomy, Matt Holliday has taken the NL by storm. Hammerin’ Holliday leads the NL in average and OBP.
  • Contract-year man Albert Pujols hasn’t gotten off to Berkman- and Holliday-like starts, however. AP has seven homers, 19 RBIs and 21 runs, but he’s only batting .245, with a .303 OBP. He also only has one other extra-base hit. There are several concerning numbers regarding Pujols’ start. First, he’s hitting fewer line drives than ever before, hitting the ball on a line only 13.4 percent of the time, compared to a career average of 19.1 percent. Pujols is also hitting 48.5 percent of his balls in play on the ground, which is eight percent higher than his career average. He’s also hitting fewer fly balls than he has in his career. Pujols is out in front of the ball all the time, and is hitting large amounts of ground balls to the left side of the infield – something that should be easily correctable but hasn’t been corrected yet. Pujols is swinging at and hitting more balls outside the strike zone than normal, and is swinging at and hitting fewer pitches inside the strike zone than normal. In years past we would say he is pressing to try to make up for a lack of power behind him, but with Holliday and Berkman swinging hot sticks there isn’t any reason for Pujols to be pressing. Albert’s walk rate is five points below his career average. He needs to stop pressing and swinging at pitches outside the zone, take more pitches and let the pitches make a mistake later in the plate appearance.

PITCHING

  • The Cardinals pitching staff, while not as dominant as the lineup, has been very solid, producing without ace Adam Wainwright. The Cards rank seventh in ERA, are tied for fifth in quality starts, have three shutouts (third in the Majors), and rank in the top half of pitching staffs in opponents’ average, OBP, SLG and OPS.
  • But the Cardinals do have a problem, and it’s in their bullpen. Ryan Franklin is now 0-3 after taking the loss in today’s game against the Braves. He now has an 8.68 ERA, four blown saves in five save opportunities and has allowed more homers and walks than strikeouts.
  • Franklin’s and Miguel Batista’s work have made the Cardinals ‘pen seem worse than it is. Jason Motte didn’t allow a run in his last nine April appearances; Mitchell Boggs has struck out 15 in only 14.2 innings of work, walking only three; and youngsters Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez have only allowed three earned runs while combining for 27 K’s in only 19.1 innings.
  • The Cards ‘pen has had so many save chances because of the stellar work of the rotation, as mentioned earlier. Kyle Lohse is 4-1 with a 1.64 ERA and .73 WHIP. He’s only walked five in 38.1 innings. Lohse is inducing a career-high 48.6 percent ground-ball rate, and his BB/9 of 1.17 is also a career-best. Lohse has never fully been healthy since his 2008 season and maybe – finally – he’ll be able to put together a full season of quality pitching at full health.
  • Jaime Garcia is 3-0, and has bettered his K/9, BB/9 and GB% from his rookie year. He’s giving up 3.27 ground balls for every fly ball he gives up, which helps keep the ball in the park and runs from being scored. After a shaky spring at best Garcia hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a game all year.

So panic not, Cardinal Nation. Every other team in the NL Central has its own question marks, and our offense and starting pitching have been great so far. Chances are, in September we’ll regret blowing a couple of these games, but with how our offense was performing after the first week of the season we could be in a lot worse position.

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