As good as it gets?
Well, at this writing the Cardinals are 16-8 with one more game left to go in the month of April. Albert Pujols hit his 14th homerun today, the most ever in MLB history for the month of April. David Eckstein has been excellent leading off, setting the table with a .410 OBP, 2nd among all NL leadoff men only to Ryan Freel of the red-hot Redlegs. And the pitching staff has been solid, posting a 3.41 ERA, second only to the Mets in the NL.
And one of the best things of all, Scott Rolen is back, hitting .313 with a .923 OPS. Sure, he's been sick with bronchitis for the last few games, but seeing him back in action as the Scott Rolen of old should give Cardinal fans a lot of hope.
So all is well in Cardinal Nation, right? Well, not exactly. First of all, the obvious. Juan Encarnacion is not getting it done. Using the Hardball Times variant of Bill James' Runs Created Metric, Juan has been worth 1 run for the month of April. That's right. One. Juan is batting only .080 with runners in scoring position and has yet to find a spot in the lineup. The good news is there is no way he will continue that horrific trend, but even when he does come to, unfortunately he'll still be Juan Encarnacion.
Things haven't faired much better for young Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina. According to the same metric, Yadi's been worth 2 runs per game, or around 1.2 per 27 outs. We all know Yadi's not much of a hitter, but you'd like to see him get it going, especially if he's going to continue to bat 7th.
There's also other issues we'd all like to see ironed out, like Jim Edmonds being under the Mendoza Line, (.194) or why in the heck is John Rodriguez (.953 OPS) not playing more in favor of So Taguchi (.690 OPS)?
Then On the other side of the spectrum, you have Aaron Miles and Hector Luna playing way over their heads right now, and sooner or later these guys will come down to earth. Miles, with a career .320 OBP, currently owns a .395 OBP. And Hector Luna, who couldn't buy a hit in spring training is hitting .393.
Ah, the wackiness of the young season.
While I'd like to see a little more thunder in the lineup to support Albert Pujols, my real concern is turning more and more to the rotation. You would think that it wouldn't be the case, given the low ERA. But outside of that ERA are some real concerns. First of all the ineptitude to get a strike out. The Cardinals are only averaging 5.21 k's per 9, 15th in the NL. To compensate, the Cardinals have got 40 more ground outs then the next highest NL team (325 to 285 by the Astros). But with the last poor outings of Jason Marquis, a 5 walk game turned in by Mulder, and the overall underwhelming performances of Jeff Suppan so far, the rotation will need the good defense to continue and a little bit of luck to match what it's done in the last few years. While they should be okay for the season, you still would like to see a power arm added (or called up *cough* Reyes) for the playoffs should we get there as expected. And we should, as I'm not buying the Reds hot start. Nor should you.
Then there is the sticky Mr. Isringhausen. I'm not even going to go there, at least for now.