Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Sports

July 15, 2014

Czachorski: Can't count out the Cards

EFFINGHAM — Here we are again. To completely change the lyrics of a beloved Christmas tune, it’s the least wonderful time of the year.

The All-Star break is here, bringing with it the deadest period in the sports calendar one can find all year.

Most of the basketball free agents have made up their mind (hello LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, etc.), football’s still too far off for any real news to spread, and baseball takes a break for four days for a silly home run contest and what should be a fun but meaningless exhibition. The British Open starts Thursday, but the time difference makes it difficult and by the time the end of the tournament is here, baseball is back.

It’s like the local weather took its cue from the professional lull, with rain taking out the senior legion district tournament in Robinson Monday afternoon as well.

So with half (or half-ish) of the season down, it seems like a perfect time to make some midway review marks on the MLB season.

I’ll spare you my thoughts on the Cubs. They’re kind of okay, but not really good at all and frustrating to think about.

What has been the most impressive is the play of the St. Louis Cardinals. Last year’s run to the World Series was predicated on a world-beating offense, a high-efficiency machine that seemingly always came through with runners in scoring position.

According to MLB.com, the Cardinals hit .330 with runners in scoring position last year, with a .402 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .463, blowing away the rest of the league.

The Cardinals have plummeted in all those departments this year, hitting .248 with a .328 on-base percentage and a .356 slugging percentage. Even with that fall, that’s still good for 16th in batting average but 24th in on-base plus slugging percentage.

St. Louis ranks 29th in runs scored, 15th in on-base, 14th in batting average and 26th in slugging. Simply put, this is not a good offensive club.

And yet, because of course, the Cardinals are a game out of first base.

It’s easy to see why. They rank top 10 in ERA (8th), WHIP (8th) and batting average against (sixth), despite injuries to Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, with All-Star starting pitcher Adam Wainwright leading the way. (I think it should have been Clayton Kershaw, but that’s another story.)

Milwaukee’s hot start has seemed to fade, but the NL Central has easily been the best division in baseball this season, with the Cubs even playing .500 ball for more than a month and gaining no ground on the rest of the pack.

But it won’t get easier. With Yadier Molina’s thumb injury the only player who hasn’t taken a dramatic statistical downturn in the lineup is Matt Adams, who is on fire as of late but may be due to come back down to earth, especially with Molina’s bat out of the order.

The offensive numbers say this team shouldn’t be competing. They are.

The injury to Molina says this team could fall apart without the heart and soul of the Cardinals offense.

I still wouldn’t count on it. I called them the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine almost a year ago to this day.

It hasn’t been as a smooth as a treadmill like I said then, but to continue the running analogy, it seems at the end of every marathon, they’re first to finish the race in the NL Central.

Let the race continue, and let it resume quickly after the least wonderful time of the year.

 

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