ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 15: Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a two-RBI triple against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on April 15, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. Both teams wore the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 10-3. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
I blame horror movies and Agatha Christie novels for the following conclusion: The St. Louis Cardinals' season-to-date has been a little too placid for comfort, for me. It isn't just the seven wins, though those help, or hurt—it's that the Cardinals have already been thrown into the first of our predetermined traps for this team, and nobody's even noticed.
Here it was, first on our list: The Cardinals' old guys get hurt, and the depth we've been crowing about all offseason gets tested earlier and more often than we anticipated. More often than anticipated is TBD, though I wasn't expecting Lance Lynn to have two starts already, but early is definitely happening; Lance Berkman's only played five games, one fewer than the invisible-early Tyler Greene. On the infield, Rafael Furcal has played well and often, but his two deputies have flailed around over their first 50 plate appearances.
And none of it's really mattered. It's enough to make your skin crawl, if you're as bad at enjoying things as I am. Here's what's kept the Cardinals atop the division so far, in no order:
1. Before last July, Yadier Molina had hit three home runs in a month twice—in August of 2007, when he hit four of six, and June of 2005, when he hit three of eight. Since last July, he's done it three times in four months. He hasn't taken a day off this year, either, which makes me wonder whether it's easier or harder to convince a former catcher you need to rest every so often.
Molina's improvement as a hitter has been kind of herky-jerky and abrupt, so it's been hard, since his career-year last season, to tell just how good he was. But I'm willing to say he has the nice-OBP-for-a-catcher thing locked in—it's at .348 over the last five years and 10 games—and most of the variance from 2007 on has been in his power production, which sank in 2007 and 2010 and shot up last season. If it's up this year, as well, the Cardinals will have gotten a deal on at least one year of his contract.
2. Matt Carpenter was supposed to be the depth option for David Freese, but with Allen Craig out he's decided to turn in his cult-hero application as the backup first baseman instead. I can't complain about this development, even though he's only walked once in 24 plate appearances. He's hitting .409/.417/.818, and he doesn't wear batting gloves, which is something people are into.
Programming note [the rest of the actual post follows the jump]: It's been a while since I plugged the 2012 Viva El Birdos Baseball Annual. I'd like to do that one more time! The 2012 VEB Baseball Annual—you can order it here, for $2.99, for Kindle, nook, iPad or iPhone, or the computer you're reading this with—is kind of like a Cardinals-themed issue of The Atlantic, unless you hate The Atlantic; it's a collection of long-form journalism, interviews, essays, and history about the 2012 Cardinals and their forebears. It's got work from Larry Borowsky—lboros, for short, who conceived, produced, and edited the thing, as well as this blog—azruavatar, the red baron, Kary Booher, et al, in it, and if that's not enough I did a bunch of player capsules in which I made a lot of assumptions you may or may not find hilarious, dumb, or insulting.
It's the kind of thing we'd love to do as bloggers, and the stuff we'd love to read as readers, but the blogging cycle—the need for constant content, Google's short attention span, the sheer lack of money in it—prevents us from doing it most of the time. That's why I hope it succeeds, and why I was willing to sound like an NPR telethon host just then. (I don't even have any tote bags or restaurant coupons.)
There's been some back-and-forth in the comments about whether Carpenter will or should stay on the 25-man roster when Skip Schumaker—who didn't play in yesterday's Memphis win—and Allen Craig make their way back to the team. The unfortunate thing about this back-and-forth is that the two most obvious options are out of the question, because the team seems reluctant either to waive Skip Schumaker or go without having Kyle McClellan and Victor Marte in the same bullpen for a little while.
We're trying to decide on the third-best option, then—to keep Carpenter around and drop Erik Komatsu, or option Carpenter and try to carry Komatsu all season. I lean slightly toward optioning Carpenter, for these reasons:
- He's probably still not a satisfying first baseman. It's easy to get caught up in his performance so far, and it's right to get caught up in it—baseball isn't a mechanism for producing large sample sizes, it's an excuse to enjoy small ones. But for all the new-hitting-approach narrative we have to trust his new look, this is the same guy whose ZiPS projection had him slugging .366.
- With Allen Craig available he seems useful mostly in the third-catcher sense—he's likely to get a lot of playing time on a team that's starting David Freese, but with Daniel Descalso around I don't know what his job is the very day Freese gets hurt. With Craig back this team already has a pinch-hitter better than Carpenter, and it already has a third baseman good enough to play on the days Freese won't.
- I like Erik Komatsu, and not just because of his sick beats. Jon Jay is a recent (and, for me, at least, unexpected) example of a future-fourth-outfielder made good; given the chance to add one more for the price of, say, 50 Matt Carpenter at-bats that will turn into Daniel Descalso or Tyler Greene at-bats, I think it's worth keeping them around in bulk.
Side note: Will Matt Carpenter ever catch a break? He slotted into the Cardinals' system at third base between David Freese, who became King of St. Louis just after it looked like he might be vulnerable, and Zack Cox, a first-round pick. Now he's achieved his own St. Louis fame at first base; meanwhile, in Memphis, Matt Adams is hitting .381/.449/.696 in his first exposure to the Pacific Coast League. I eagerly await the announcement that Skip Schumaker has agreed to learn first base, for the good of the team.
3. The Cardinals' fourth, fifth, and sixth starters—Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, and Lance Lynn—have allowed five earned runs in 39 innings. This is probably the biggest reason for the Cardinals' success—that's six of their seven wins—and the least sustainable, and I think that's why nobody's bothered worrying yet. Of course Kyle Lohse's ERA+ won't be 585 at the end of the season; so long as it is, though, there's no harm in taking the benefits and smoothing out a rough patch from the infield or Berkman or Adam Wainwright.