By Kujo on Cesar Izturis
Three series into the season, the Cardinals have a lot to be proud about. The remarkable thing is they have been able to start off so well while still going in a direction oriented towards youth and retooling. Brian Barton has gotten at-bats, though not enough for my liking, Kyle McClellan has gotten opportunities in crucial situations, and even Anthony Reyes has been able to show off an improved mentality from the bullpen. It's time for some initial reactions from the first nine games of the season.
What We're Doing Right
1.) Starting Pitching - The Cardinals starters have a 1.99 ERA in 54.1 IP, including 2.67 strikeouts per every walk. Although there have been issues with going deep into ballgames, the starters are averaging 6 innings per start, which is an ideal number considering the current state of the rotation. Who's the true hero of the rotation so far? Kyle Lohse, who has pitched 12 innings of scoreless ball despite an abbreviated spring training. I would hope for his peripherals to improve before I truly feel comfortable, but so far he has done nothing but increase his value.
2.) Getting On Base - Of course, you should expect this from a site that has applauded the Cards' ability to draw walks early in the season. The Cardinals are first in the NL and tied with Baltimore for first overall in OBP (.359) and are second behind Cincinnati with 43 walks. Teams will continue to pitch around Albert, making it critical that the Cards be able to hit with runners on. Currently, they have a .296 batting average and a .393 OBP with runners on base but just a .241 BA with runners in scoring position. One pleasant surprise has been Cesar Izturis' 6 walks this season, and it'll be interesting if he can sustain anything near his current .367 OBP.
3.) Closing the Door - Jason Isringhausen has been perfect this season, saving 5 games and allowing no runs. It will become very crucial as the season progresses that Izzy be able to shut the door without issues, especially if the run scoring fails to pick up. It's encouraging to see Jason regain the amazing movement on his pitches over the past year, and he has become an incredibly important asset in the shaping of the bullpen. His K/BB ratio (3.50) has greatly improved so far.
What We're Doing Wrong
1.) Putting Runs Across the Plate - The Cardinals are 18th in the MLB in scoring, averaging just 4.3 runs per game. Cesar Izturis is batting .167 with runners in scoring position (6 AB), Adam Kennedy is batting .200 (5 AB), and Brian Barton is hitless in 3 opportunities. The Cards are going to need more ways to drive runs home if they hope to compete against Milwaukee (4th in MLB in runs) and Chicago (10th).
2.) Hitting Dingers - It seems wrong to say this the day after Albert hit two bombs to opposite fields the night before, but the Cardinals are tied for 21st in the MLB with 6 home runs. Arizona has 17 and the Mets have 3, so the Cards are at the lower end of the spectrum. The good news is that this is the only category in which the Cardinals are below the MLB average. The bad news is that there's not a whole lot of help around the corner until Troy Glaus and Chris Duncan get hot.
What to Expect
The Cardinals will be hard-pressed to maintain their ridiculously high walk rate and good on-base percentage, but Chris Duncan will help both stats as he gets more playing time. The offense has become the most suspect part of the team, although it is the most exciting aspect of the team also - nothing has been more riveting than watching Rick Ankiel take hacks or seeing Barton run the bases. The pitching will change dramatically over the next month, as Pineiro and Mulder make their way back to the team. I wouldn't be surprised to see someone, possibly Anthony Reyes, spun off for offensive help if the Cards remain in contention. The key is keeping the team moving in the same direction it started the season with, towards building a solid foundation of youth that can bring self-sufficiency to the franchise. As it looks so far, this will be an interesting season.