Starters and Homers Power Cardinals Early

Clutch hitting is lacking as the St. Louis Cardinals struggle to score runs in their first 12 games while stellar starting pitching leads the way.

Through the first dozen games of the 2010 season, the St. Louis Cardinals' formula for victory has been a mix of stellar starting pitching with the timely home run. It has worked to the tune of four consecutive two games-to-one series wins. The 8-4 Cardinals have built identical 4-2 home and road records as they head to Arizona and San Francisco this week.

Along with Adam Wainwright's complete-game win Sunday night allowing a much-needed period of rest for the bullpen after Saturday's 20-inning marathon, his performance also extended an impressive streak. Heading into Monday's contest, the members of the Cardinals rotation have strung together six consecutive starts of seven innings or more while yielding two or fewer earned runs. This is the longest such stretch by St. Louis pitching since 1986 – 24 seasons ago.

The Cardinals' collective ERA of 2.45 tops all of Major League Baseball and their starters' ERA of 2.09 not only leads the majors, but is a full run stingier than their next-closest National League competitor.

Jaime Garcia leads the rotation with a 0.69 ERA through his first two starts, best among NL rookies and third in the league overall. While Kyle Lohse brings up the rear at 4.15, opposing NL batters are averaging just .239 against him.

In terms of offensive explosion, St. Louis' total of 16 home runs ties them for second in the league with Philadelphia. Not surprisingly, between them, the number three and four hitters, Albert Pujols (five) and Matt Holliday (three), have half St. Louis' total. The NL team leader with 17 is the Cardinals' foe Monday through Wednesday, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

During the New York Mets series this past weekend at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals scored nine of their ten runs via the home run. That increased their dependence on the log ball this season, as 34 of their 55 runs, or 61.8 percent, have crossed the plate as the result of the home run.

Yet despite the impressive parade of homers, only five of the 16 NL clubs have scored fewer runs than St. Louis' total of 55. The Cardinals' per-game average of 4.9 runs if sustained would be their second-lowest since 1997. Only the 2007 (78-84) club was poorer, averaging under 4.5 runs per game.

The challenge for the 2010 club does not seem to be getting baserunners, but instead bringing them home once they reach.

Using the traditional on-base percentage measurement of hits plus walks plus hit by pitch, the Cardinals' 160 runners this season puts them in the middle of the NL pack, tied for seventh. Yet only 34.4 percent of those baserunners have scored - the third-lowest rate in the league. In other words, only two NL clubs are bringing home a lower percentage of their runners than are the Cardinals.

One has to expect more balanced hitting is lurking somewhere around the corner. While the Cardinals current .240 batting average also places them among the bottom third of the league, it is unfamiliar territory.

Though again it is only 12 games, the last time the Cardinals batted .240 or below as a team for an entire season was back in 1986, when the club hit a collective .236. The team's worst performance in the La Russa era was .255 in 1997, the manager's second St. Louis club.

Team catalysts batting far below their respective career averages through the first four series include Yadier Molina (.205), Colby Rasmus (.188), Brendan Ryan (.171) and Skip Schumaker (.233).

With runners in scoring position, the Cardinals team batting average drops to .216. In the NL, only the Mets are worse at .171. Arizona tops the league at .301. Last season, the Cardinals batted .264 with runners in scoring position.

Only six Cardinals have nine or more such at-bats and there is a wide gulf in performance in these small sample sizes. Pujols' .467 mark greatly contrasts with Schumaker at 0-for-9, Holliday at .133, Rasmus at .182 and Molina at .214. Ryan Ludwick is batting .286 with runners in scoring position through the team's first dozen contests.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Brian pens a column each Wednesday at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and selected TCN content appears at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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