(BaseballStL) -- If it seems like every game that the St. Louis Cardinals win is like a root canal, it’s because, well, many of them have been.
Laughers have been few and far between – 29 of the 52 games so far this year have been decided by two runs or less, with the Cards winning 14 of those.
While a refocused Kolten Wong and an emerging Allen Craig have rejuvenated the Cards, their shaky start put them in some holes statistically, which should have left them buried in the standings like the woeful Boston Red Sox. But somehow, the Redbirds found ways to win and look to have slowly righted the ship, winning 10 of their last 14 games.
A quick look at the stats shows the real question isn’t why they aren’t winning more games, but rather, how did they win this many?
•The Cardinals are last in the National League with 28 homers. In fact, only the Kansas City Royals have fewer in all of baseball. You don’t have to club three taters a game to win a pennant, but a team needs more than three a week. Fall behind by three runs and it looks like 30 when you don’t have a thumper.
•The Redbirds in the 80s won consistently without hitting home runs. But those guys had speed. Vince Coleman, Willie McGee et al stole bases with impunity. In 2014, it’s sometimes too difficult to run out routine grounders, much less steal bases. The Cards have 20 stolen bases so far, (14th of 15 NL teams) led by 7 from Kolten Wong, a guy who has only played in a little more than half the games. Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina are among the team leaders, all tied with one each.
•A lot of teams string together hits, building big innings by cleverly starting runners, forcing first and third situations and staying out of double plays. Is that how they are doing it? Well, no. In fact, they have hit into an inordinate number of double plays – 47 and counting, fully 21 more than, say, the Cincinnati Reds. That’s about a double play a game, going hand-in-hand with the lack of speed.
•Well, then they must be making a lot of contact, forcing errors, making pitchers throw strikes and keeping continual pressure on the defense. That’s a nice guess, but sorry, no. The Cardinals have struck out over 380 times this season, on a pace for 1,200, not particularly high by historical standards, but not enough balls in play to overcome a lack of speed and power, particularly when the lead-off man is averaging nearly one whiff a game.
•Ok, then is it the bullpen? Yes and no. Closer Trevor Rosenthal has 15 saves but an ERA well over 4 and 14 walks in 25 innings. Carlos Martinez isn’t exactly a shutdown option and even Kevin Siegrist came back to Earth before going on the DL.
•Sterling defense? Better lately but the 25 errors so far this year are a third of what the team made all of last year.
So how have they managed to play six games better than even? They have one of the best five starters in baseball (Wainwright), the best catcher, (Molina), a few guys who just know how to win and what appears to be a league channeling NFL-like parity.