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April was a good month for the Cardinals that could have been great

Posted Tuesday, May 1, 2012, at 7:12 PM

As the Cardinals wrap up the first month of their six-month tour defending the 2011 World Championship, the feelings are good about the future.

The team finished up the month with a 14-8 record. While that's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it could have been much better without a handful of simple miscues. If just a few more things go right, that record could easily be 17-5 and possibly even 18-4.

The two losses to the Cubs last week hurt more than any game so far. Both games were very much in reach, but the team couldn't seem to manage to string together the hits where they needed to be. Offensively the team is playing great baseball, but they have struggled to capitalize on big opportunities.

Sunday's loss to Milwaukee was another prime example. While Jaime Garcia pitched a great game to continue the team's string of quality starts, a miscue at the plate and one on the bases cost the team in the end. A failed bunt attempt wasn't able to advance a runner who could have made Furcal's RBI single a 2-RBI single. A base-running fail by Garcia failed to score himself on a sacrifice fly to right field because he forgot to tag up before running home. Those two opportunities alone were enough to change the outcome of the game.

I know lots of people were upset about the double-steal at the end of the game Sunday, but it really wasn't a bad call. The team made the same play four times during the spring. Prior to Sunday, Tyler Greene had never been caught stealing in a major league game. While he struggles at the plate, if you get him on base, the boy can run. Sunday's play, though, looked pretty rough. The double-steal, when properly executed, is a magnificent piece of fundamental baseball. When the play fails, however, baserunners are left to look like third graders who don't know which way to go on the bases.

I fully expect them to try it again before long, and I don't blame them. While they have done well with the long ball, the team has strung together its biggest and longest rallies playing single/double fundamental baseball. When you get more aggressive on the basepaths, sometimes you get caught. It's a fact of life. They will improve.

One thing that could eventually be a thorn in the team's side is the number of men they are leaving on base. The team is currently hitting .258 with runners in scoring position. While it could be much worse, considering that opponents are hitting .199, it is definitely an area with room for improvement.

There is something positive to read into the large amount of runners left on base this season. The main reason is that the team has a lot of men on base. With an on-base percentage of .350, the Cardinals rank third overall in all of baseball. The team is also third in batting average (.280), fourth in slugging percentage (.442) and fourth in runs scored (113).

The general idea is that things are balancing out. While there are concerns, there are also really high points that need to be taken into account. Frankly, if 3-3 over seven days is the worst "slump" the team sees, then things will be looking good all season. I don't expect that because all teams struggle eventually, but if they are gentle and short-lived struggles, then this team will be just fine.

The schedule for May will be somewhat more difficult with series against Arizona, Atlanta, San Francisco and Los Angeles. With the next six games being against Pittsburgh and Houston, the Cardinals have an excellent opportunity to really make some headway in the division.


On an unrelated side note, Allen Craig was activated from the disabled list following a Monday start at Memphis. He will be in St. Louis for Tuesday's game. There has been no word on if he will play tonight, but they wouldn't bring him back if they didn't think he was ready. A roster move will need to be made, but now rod yet on who that might be.


To submit a question for the Balls & Strikes Mailbag, either e-mail cnoles@dailystatesman.com , call (573)624-4545 or fill out the form at dailystatesman.com/blogs/coreynoles/

Follow him on Twitter @coreynoles

Don't forget to dive into this week's contest to win a copy of A+E Networks Home Entertainment/MLB Productions "BASEBALL'S GREATEST GAMES: 2011 WORLD SERIES GAME 6 Bluray/DVD Combo Pack." If you know when the last World Series played in one stadium was and can name the two teams, then enter before Thursday, May 3 at noon. Just click on this link to read more and find out how to enter.

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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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