Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

July 27, 2013

St. Louis: MLB's perpetual motion machine

Cardinals just keep moving through NL

Ryan Czachorski
Effingham Daily News

---- — For the past week and a half, I've been trying to balance the tables for the column I wrote on Travis Wood and the All-Star Game by penning one about the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lest I seem biased, I keep running into the same problem: it's pretty hard to say anything substantially interesting about the Cardinals.

That's not to say I dislike them, they're bad, etc. It's just much easier to write about things that are bad or someone controversial.St. Louis, however, is the closest thing to a treadmill, going at the same speed for hours on end.

Really, as a fan, could you want anything more than a perfect perpetual motion machine?By almost any account, the Cardinals are the best team in baseball this season.

Most wins entering Friday? Check. Fewest losses entering Friday? Check. But the number that really stands out, that really shows how good St. Louis has been is their run differential.

For their 99 games, the Cardinals have outscored their opponents by 142, the only triple digit positive mark in baseball.For good measure, the run differentials of the other first-place teams entering Friday: Boston (+88), Detroit (+99), Oakland (+59), Atlanta (+75) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (+4).

That's true dominance, and a number that generally shows what to expect out a team on any given day. The Cardinals pound the baseball with authority and have a pitching staff that keeps runs off the board better than all but one team in baseball. The team doesn't have any cracks or weaknesses, seemingly.

Even the ones that crop up don't seem to matter much. Chris Carpenter goes down at the beginning of the year, but Shelby Miller comes in and pitches well beyond his years. Jaime Garcia gets hurt, and a combination of Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, John Gast and Tyler Lyons pick up the slack to form one servicable fifth starter.

Jason Motte gets hurt, Mitchell Boggs pitches so poorly they have to trade him, and that's no big deal for the Cardinals. Edward Mujica, who had four saves in his career before this season, has notched 30 and is suddenly a lights out closer.

Even the other rookies in the bullpen (Keith Butler, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist) have adapted to the big leagues with almost no flaws.

Matt Holliday's recent injury might have made the team better in the short term, as it gets Holliday healthy and gets Matt Adams' electric bat in the lineup more often.

Still, the ultra-efficient Cardinal machine could be even scarier come playoff time with a few tweaks.

Pete Kozma's got to go. He's slick with the glove, but is such a sub-optimal hitter that it's clear his September run last year was a fluke. The trade market is slim, but Ryan Jackson in Memphis should be a sizable upgrade if he's given the shortstop job. He's hitting .291 in AAA, and at least looks to be an average offensive player at the big league level while holding his own with the glove. Kozma, on the other hand, has a .242 batting average, a sub-.600 OPS and is getting more lost at the plate with every passing day. His utter incompetence at the plate nearly negates his glove.

Lastly, while Jake Westbrook has been pitching effectively, the Cardinals could use another starting pitcher. Westbrook's stats seem propped up by fairy dust. His lack of strikeouts is an issue, as he walks more batters than he strikes out. He's a fine fifth starter, but not the kind of pitcher that should be part of a four-man rotation in the playoffs.

St. Louis has been tied to Jake Peavy in the trade market, and that would be a good upgrade. Peavy's stats have been inflated by a flukishly high home run rate, one that would ostensibly diminish if he didn't pitch in the bandbox at U.S. Cellular Field.

But these are just nitpicks.

John Mozeliak has been about as close to a genius as one cane be since taking over as the Cardinals' GM. If no moves are made, the same thing will continue to happen.

The Cardinal machine will just keep chugging and chugging and chugging, forever in perfect and steady motion.