By Chris Russell on Underachievers
In a season where they were pegged to be a sad sack bunch of rag-tag underachievers, the St. Louis Cardinals set a franchise record for wins in April with 18, and currently sit in first place atop the NL Central. The Birds finished the season’s opening month 7 games over .500 and owners of the second best record in baseball. Fans and critics were shocked after St. Louis’ red hot start, but not silenced. Chatter of an easy schedule and overachieving starting pitching has circled the team thus far, and the naysayers are still out there (many of them residing in Chicago and Boston). But even if this team has played a generous amount of “bad teams” and cruised through April on the wings of a head-scratchingly successful pitching staff, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve any credit. And it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t keep it up. This is baseball. Did anyone expect the RedSox to come back from the seemingly impossible 3-0 ALCS deficit, or the Mariners to rack up 116 regular season wins in 2001, or for the Cardinals to claim the World Series Championship in ‘06 after winning only 83 regular season games? I didn’t think so.
To say the Cardinals don’t deserve to be where they are in the standings right now is ludicrous. Even when they came out on the losing end, they were still in the game until the last pitch. Nine of the 11 games they lost this year have been by 3 runs or less. And they’re winning more than their fair share of the nail-biters (6-4 in 1-run contests), which is a welcome change from last season. Not to mention they are +31 in run differential and have the 2nd best ERA, WHIP and OBP in the National League.
What’s that? …”No respect?” Thank you, Rodney. I agree.
The Birds have earned each and every victory this season (and even one they didn’t get credit for), and it was the result of strong starting pitching, timely hitting, a solid bullpen, quality defense and sound (but occasionally unorthodox) management. And this team has something that was lacking last year: Unity and the desire to win at any cost. Excitement and hard work usually surround a team budding with young talent… and the Cardinals emulate that to a tee. Anyone who saw Kyle McClellan’s first Major League strikeout, Brian Barton’s celebration after his first ML hit or Albert Pujols’ reaction to Troy Glaus’ first Cardinal homerun knows what I’m talking about.
This team is having fun and playing great baseball… something Redbird fans didn’t see much of in 2007. Don’t expect them to win 105 games, but don’t be too shocked if they’re still playing ball in October either. There are no guarantees, and hot starts can cool and be easily forgotten when they turn frosty, be we’ve seen the Birds in this underdog role before. And they seem to relish it. We all know Tony does.
So here we are in the second month of a season that was supposed to be one based upon rebuilding, grooming prospects and waiting for key players to get healthy. The fact that this team has gone above and beyond that so far has Cardinal Nation buzzing. The fact that they seem like a legitimate contender in the Central, well, that’s just exciting.