Prior to Opening Day, the St. Louis Cardinals took a backseat to the Cincinnati Reds. Many experts unanimously awarded the Cardinals’ division foe the National League Central crown without hesitating. In fact, 35 of 43 ESPN experts picked the Reds over the Cardinals for the bragging rights.
Now, it’s complete role reversal. The Cardinals are heading not only the NL Central, but all of baseball. Entering Thursday’s three-game series finale with the New York Mets at Citi Field, the Cardinals haven’t lost a series in their last 12. They also boast baseball’s best road record, 23-11. Moreover, the Cardinals sit 2.5 games in front of the Reds for first place in the division.
There are a number of factors that can be attributed to the Cardinals’ astounding success thus far in 2013.
First and foremost, the Cardinals boast the best starting rotation in the game, leading the majors in ERA (3.20), earned runs (209) and home runs allowed (40). They’ve done this despite a season-ending injury to lefty Jaime Garcia. The starting five have seen prolonged success without workhorse Chris Carpenter, who is working his way back from nerve issues. Jake Westbrook will make his first start Friday at Miami since re-joining the team after suffering inflammation in his right elbow.
Staff ace Adam Wainwright has dominated thus far, amassing a record of 9-3 through 13 starts. Rookie Shelby Miller is vying for the NL Rookie of the Year and a possible Cy Young Award, with a mark of 7-4, with a 2.21 ERA. What’s more, Lance Lynn is 8-1 on the season.
After closer Jason Motte went down with season-ending elbow surgery, the Cardinals turned to set-up man Mitchell Boggs, who imploded. Nonetheless, manager Mike Matheny has found a ninth-inning man in Edward Mujica, who is a perfect 18 for 18 in save opportunities this season.
Offensively, the Cardinals head the NL in runs scored, with 327. Five-time Gold Glover Yadier Molina leads the NL with his .356 average. Molina has also launched four homers and driven in 32. Rookie Matt Carpenter is crushing the ball, as he’s managing a steady .323 mark, with five long balls and 24 RBI.
The Cardinals garner all the tools to win the NL Central title ahead of the Reds, who have taken the crown two of the last three years. As long as the starting pitching continues to flourish, the Cardinals will maintain their success and enter the postseason with a division title in their grasp.