St. Louis Cardinals quietly making another late push for postseason

Carlos Beltran has helped St. Louis Cardinals fans forget about Albert what’s-his-name. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

There hasn’t been much talk lately about the St. Louis Cardinals, as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds have taken the top two spots in the NL Central. But at 52-46 the Cardinals are hardly out of the picture, sitting six games behind the Reds for the division and two games back from a playoff spot.

They’ve been a steady team all season and actually lead the league in run differential as of July 25 at plus 91. They are fourth in the league in runs and second in batting average.

They’ve gotten full, healthy seasons from Matt Holliday, David Freese and Carlos Beltran. Those three have accounted for 313 of the team’s 933 hits, 190 of its 461 RBIs and 52 of the 104 home runs hit by the Cardinals.

And let’s not forget about All-Star starting shortstop Rafael Furcal. The veteran put up an amazing first half, posting a batting average above .300 into the early parts of June. But he finished that month on a horrible slide, and his July numbers seem to be bringing him down to Earth. Still, the offseason acquisition has been great for this team, and with an OBP of .347, he’ll continue to help out the top of this lineup and get on base for the three guys mentioned above.

The lone guy that hasn’t been there all season is Lance Berkman. He had a great start, but has missed a ton of games due to injury, which you might expect. He finally rejoined the team in mid-July and has yet to get it going, only hitting .182 since his return with no home runs. You have to think he’ll start clicking at some point and could help this offense become even more potent.

Yadier Molina also is having one of his best seasons offensively with a batting average currently over .300. He’s already broke his career record for home runs in a season at 15, after hitting 14 in 2011. The catcher signed a big deal in the offseason, and he’s earning his money.

The rest of this team is filled with guys who can pick up slack and come through in big situations. Players like Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker and Matt Carpenter are what make this team so dynamic and a threat to win the division and the National League, as they did last year.

Early on this season, the pitching was carrying this team with three guys in the top 10 in almost every category. While those numbers have become a bit normal, the top three guys are still pulling their weight, and Adam Wainwright is starting to turn a corner and could once again become the ace of this staff.

The Cardinals currently rank 10th in the league in pitching with a 3.70 ERA, but they rank third in the league in starters ERA at 3.48. On the flip side, their relievers are 23rd best at 4.19.

Kyle Lohse is having a breakout season leading the staff with a 2.72 ERA — ninth best in the league — through 136.1 innings, which also leads the team.

After a brilliant start that landed him in the All-Star Game, Lance Lynn had a horrible month of June that brought his numbers down a bit. But he’s bounced back better than ever in July, allowing only one run in his three starts striking out 22 and walking only five. He still carries the 20th best ERA in baseball at 3.10 and leads the Cardinals with 12 wins.

The other starter with an ERA under four is Jake Westbrook, who has posted solid numbers all season. Twelve of his 19 starts have been quality starts, so Jake continues to give his team a chance.

The most interesting guy in the rotation, though, might be Wainwright. After missing the 2011 season because of Tommy John surgery, he’s had a little trouble getting it going in 2012. His ERA in April was 7.32 but he settled down in May bringing it to 4.45. Then he blew up twice in June, giving up seven runs in two contests, but other than that, he’s been solid.

July has been his best month, as he’s only allowed eight runs in 26.2 innings for a 2.70 ERA, bringing his season ERA to its lowest point at 4.31. His strikeout numbers are still there, as he’s fanned 118, while only walking 32. If you take away those two bad starts in June and another one in April where he gave up eight runs, his season ERA sits at 3.05. Still not quite the ace-type numbers he put up in 2009 and 2010, but definitely good enough to make this rotation even more dangerous.

Things did not start out great after the break, as the Cardinals were swept by the Reds and lost two out of three to the Brewers. But they’ve won five of their last six and have upcoming series with the Cubs and Rockies. They play the Pirates six more times and the Reds six more times, including a three-game series to finish the year.

I believe they’ll go out and make a move to help bolster a bullpen that’s been a bit shaky, but other than that, this lineup looks pretty good.

The Cardinals have been lurking in the dark, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have another magical postseason run in them. This team is better than last year’s, and things only look to get better as Berkman and Wainwright return to form.

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