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taking stock

MILWAUKEE, WI - JUNE 11: Jon Jay #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals jumps as he catches the baseball against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 11, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - JUNE 11: Jon Jay #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals jumps as he catches the baseball against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 11, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
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First, just for your reading pleasure, since this involves someone who LOVES to pull chains about statheads and prospect geeks boosting this player or that player who subsequently bombs, i present the following from February 2011:

Dave: Joe-

Nothing fancy; how do you see the Central standings stacking up at the conclusion of the 2011 regular season?

Joe Strauss: I'll restate:
Cardinals and Cubs finish 1-2, in either order.
Reds and Brewers finish 3-4, in either order.
Astros fifth.
Pirates sixth.
It's possible four teams finish with winning records but the division winner fails to reach 90 victories. There, you've got your ammunition if the Astros lead the division after 10 games and the Cardinals break slow from the gate.

in case you haven't looked at the standings recently, the cubs are currently six games back. . . er, in back of the pirates. they are in a serious run with the astros for worst team in the division. while the cubs have had some injuries, they haven't really been worse off than other teams, including the cards, who could fill the two-thirds of a pretty impressive lineup off their DL (craig -RF, holliday - LF, punto -ss, freese - 3b, laird -c, wainwright - p), with augenstein and mcclellan available to relieve.

moreover, the cardinals were much better in their farm and their depth than the cubs - really, than most teams. some writers like to crap on the farm system at every chance, but there's some great players percolating up from an increasingly impressive system. anybody who didn't see that the cards had a lot more ability to rebound from injury than other clubs just wasn't paying attention.

of the top 13 position players by WAR on the team, eight are products of the farm. six of them had zero major league at-bats in march 2009. of the 11 best pitchers by WAR, seven are products of the farm, and jaime garcia had the earliest debut of all of them (2008).

funnily enough, two of our top players weren't even starters - allen craig (.415 wOBA) and jon jay (.360) have had a stellar season. both are due to be visited by the bad BABIP fairy sometime soonish, but craig is merely using up chits from last year when he soaked up a 22.5% LD rate in a .282 BABIP. let the sportswriters cloak all this in narrative. this is just doing mostly the same thing and getting better results. craig was always a good hitter, just not a great one.

(my favorite hackneyed sportswriter phrase: such-and-such a player with 100-or-so PA's can't be used too much, or he'll get "overexposed." usually this means the player isn't as good as the results he's getting; play it out over 600, and luck will catch up with him again. the phrase "overexposure" is used to suggest that something other than luck is at stake, like that clubs will figure him out, but i think there are as many allen craigs - who start slow then improve - as those who start on fire - like jon jay - and then slow down again).

to go along with the bench-players-better-than-other-teams-starters, two of our three best relievers didn't go north from florida with the club from spring training. our starting rotation has only one regular home-grown member, in kyle mcclellan, who jumped straight from springfield to the st. louis bullpen. however, i have to say that, on balance, i liked what i saw from lance lynn in his two spot starts. he got some bad results after la russa put him out for the sixth inning in his first start, despite being on short rest. he got victimized some bad defense. he showed what we thought he would: high GB rates, not a lot of strikeouts, not a lot of walks. i was very pleased by his starts.

and the farm players aren't all depth players. colby is the 25th most valuable position player in the majors by WAR. david freese has been worth 2.9 WAR over less than a full season on the field - 400 PA's in three years. if he could get healthy, he could be a huge talent. jaime garcia runs 12th among major league pitchers by WAR. if philadelphia is suddenly shifted into the american league by the all-star break, he could be looking at a cy young award.

you look around and there's more coming - matt carpenter has just made his debut, with defense that looks better than promised and two-true outcomes production at the plate (striking out or walking in half his PAs so far). tony cruz has impressed in his brief time in st. louis, both offensively and defensively, making an excellent play in the astros series to catch michael bourn, probably best baserunner in the majors, stealing second.

even deeper, there's some excellent pitching deep in the farm. even at the ordinary bust rate of pitching prospects, the major league teams looks to inherit an impressive stable of homegrown starters in coming years. position prospects look scarcer, but the recent draft, including kolten wong and charlie tilson, looks to help that issue.

later today, we play the brewers, who now trail by only half a game. let's hope we see a better performance than the three runs mustered through the first two games, although we have been struggling against one of the best rotations in the majors. if we have to worry about the brewers being a half-game from taking first place from us, i'd rather be in this position than worrying about the pirates a game and a half from putting us in fourth.