Cardinals Hitting on All Cylinders

The St. Louis Cardinals have been getting solid pitching and hitting together – a combination that had been missing for all of the 2007 season.

Coming into the Chicago Cubs series, the St. Louis Cardinals had won eight of their last ten, a period during which they had a winning 5-2 homestand against the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. They built upon that with a three-game sweep of the faltering Brewers in Milwaukee.

I was asked earlier today what I thought was different about the Cardinals during that period. For me, it is simple. For a decent stretch, the Cards' pitching and hitting came together at once.

Over those ten games, the pitching staff allowed just 22 runs, or an average of 2.2 runs per game and a 2.20 ERA. That isn't just the starters. That is everyone.

The rotation members' ERAs from August 6 through 16 led the way: Adam Wainwright – 1.12, Joel Pineiro – 1.29, Kip Wells – 2.08, Anthony Reyes – 2.08 and Braden Looper – 3.65. Pineiro, Looper and Wells each contributed two wins.

What I like most about Pineiro's performance has been his transition away from fly balls to ground balls. His career mark is 1.3:1 (GO/FO). As a Cardinal, Pineiro's rate is 1.55:1. That is a significant evolution - if it can be sustained.

Pineiro has also minimized the walks, issuing just two in his first 19 innings with St. Louis. With ten strikeouts, a 10:2 ratio looks pretty nice, indeed.

With the sudden stability in the rotation, it also allowed others who may have been overexposed, such as Brad Thompson, to slide back into more comfortable roles.

Oddly, arguably the most consistent Cardinals pitcher this season, closer Jason Isringhausen, was only called upon to save one of the eight wins due to the leads the offense built up. He was charged with two earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in one of the only sub-standard pitching lines during the run.

On the offensive side, there was more consistency with the wood. The club scored six runs or more in six of the ten games, averaging 6.4 runs per contest. That gave the pitching plenty of breathing room to exhale and excel.

Individually, Albert Pujols had been getting help from unlikely sources. The familiar names were nowhere to be found in the offensive leaderboards for that period.

David Eckstein and Yadier Molina shared the RBI lead with eight, followed by reserve Ryan Ludwick with seven and recent call-up Rick Ankiel with six. Ankiel paced the club in home runs with three, followed by Scott Rolen and Molina again with two.

Same story in batting average. Under-appreciated Aaron Miles hit .450 during this stretch, followed by Molina at .433 and Eckstein at .412. Looper, Wells and Reyes even went a combined 5-for-13 (.385) at the plate during the run. Jim Edmonds pitched in at a .364 clip with six RBIs of his own.

Even though all these positive short-period stats will not continue, if the Cardinals can find a way to continue to hit on all cylinders, there is no reason they cannot remain in the NL Central race until the end.

After all, about six weeks of play and 43 games remain. A lot can change in that amount of time. Looking back 43 games ago, it was the end of June and the Cardinals were a season-worst 10 ½ games out.

Isn't continuing this recent run all Cardinals fans can expect from the 2007 club at this point? Coming off the disastrous 1-5 trip (and I do mean "trip") through Pittsburgh and Washington earlier this month, who would have expected this?

Let's hope it can continue to be enjoyed.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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