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Monday, Dec. 22, 2014

Cardinals State of the Franchise at the 2013 Season's 100-Game Mark

Posted Friday, July 26, 2013, at 10:43 AM

At the 100-game-mark the St. Louis Cardinals are off to one of the hottest starts in recent memory.

The Cardinals 62 wins are the most in baseball, but it hasn't all been an easy ride. Through early bullpen catastrophes, injuries to the starting rotation and offensive struggles by several key players, the team has both persevered and dominated through the first 100 games.

Going into the final 62 games of the regular season, the Cardinals will play their closest competition--the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds--a total of 24.

With more importance than ever placed on winning one's division due to the second Wild Card, the Cardinals have a valuable opportunity--particularly in the next week--to create some breathing room in the standings.

Their 22-12 record against NL Central opponents has been a huge factor in their success and building on those numbers will be the key to winning the division.

Following is a report on the state of the organization through the first 100 games.

State of the Rotation

Through the first two months of the season, the Cardinals rotation in baseball.

Every starter in the rotation was dominant. They were going deep into games and keeping the runs to a minimum so the offense could do its job.

Nothing lasts forever.

With late May and early June came the trials of a long season. Jaime Garcia's season ended due to a shoulder injury and Jake Westbrook spent time on the disabled list.

His replacement, John Gast, suffered a late-May shoulder injury that sidelined him for two months. It was discovered this week that he also suffered a lat tear that will require an operation and end his season.

In June, the young arms which had been a major factor in the Cardinals' success--Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller--began to experience their own struggles.

While the struggles persisted for several weeks, over the past few starts the rotation has begun to show some of that April dominance once again. The starter has gotten the win in nine of the Cardinals last 12 victories.

Despite the resurgence of the starting rotation, there could still be a need for an additional arm due to the fifth spot remaining in flux.

The Cardinals do have the luxury of several rookie arms who could fit the bill--Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Tyler Lyons and Trevor Rosenthal. The question, however, is whether those young pitchers are capable of making a push for the World Series.

That is possibly the most important question Cardinals GM John Mozeliak is pondering in the days leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

State of the Bullpen

The bullpen has been a creature to itself this year. In the month of April, the Cardinals bullpen was a series of failing experiments.

The attempt to make RHP Mitchell Boggs into a closer following the loss of Jason Motte proved to be a disaster--both for Boggs and the Cardinals.

A lack of clearly-defined roles showed awkward consequences for the bullpen. Once Boggs was sent to Memphis to find his groove again, things began to fall into place.

Trevor Rosenthal has transformed into one of baseball's best setup men and proven that he has what it takes to succeed at the big league level.

Edward Mujica, a struggling reliever prior to being acquired by the Cardinals in July 2012, has become a genuine closer. He's racked up 30 saves in 32 opportunities.

Many questioned the move when Mujica switched to the ninth inning, but at this point he is tied for the most saves in the NL and has given up only 10 ER on the year.

The addition of Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist helped to solidify middle relief while spelling Rosenthal and Mujica when they need a day off.

An additional veteran arm could be a nice pickup for the bullpen, but addressing the starter need could solve the bullpen issue in itself by returning Joe Kelly to his long relief role.

In the end, the status quo may be enough to get the Cardinals deep into October baseball.

State of the Offense

The state of the Cardinals offense is good--very good.

The team boasts the second best batting average in MLB (.278) and the second lowest strikeout total (653). The Cardinals lead the National League in OBP (.339), RBI (.473), hits (940) and runs scored (.495).

For a good picture of just how solid this offense has been, one need only look at the fact that the Cardinals are carrying three hitters with averages in excess of .325 past this 100-game-mark. This isn't April or May anymore--it's the real deal.

These high averages have given the Cardinals the highest run differential in all of baseball by quite a lot.

The Cardinals have outscored opponents this year by 142 runs. Their closest competition for that title is the Detroit Tigers with 99.

That number also stacks up well against NL Central opponents with the Pirates at 49 and the Reds at 88.

They're scoring a ridiculous amount of runs and they've done so with minimal help from Jon Jay, Pete Kozma and David Freese. While those players appear to be heating up, extended slumps through the entire first-half of the 2013 season could have haunted the Cardinals.

Their situational hitting is what carried them through.

Several Cardinals have become absolutely vicious with runners in scoring position. Allen Craig is still batting .485 with RISP and neither Molina (.396) or Carpenter (.403) are far behind him.

Through the first 100 games, that is what has made the difference.

There's really not a lot to address offensively for Mozeliak as the trade deadline nears. An additional right-handed bench bat would be the most likely pick up if Brock Peterson doesn't work out.

There remain needs at shortstop, but, at least for the time being, it wouldn't be very practical to upgrade at shortstop because of the high mid-season cost. That gives Kozma a little more time to prove show what he can do at the plate.

In the end, the state of the Cardinals franchise at this point: solid.

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Corey Noles is a Cardinals Writer and Columnist for The Daily Statesman. Contact him at cnoles@dailystatesman.com or on Twitter @coreynoles.



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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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