The St. Louis Cardinals sit at 42-39 after their first 81 games of the 2012 season. The team spent several weeks in first place in the National League Central, but a stagnant stretch now sees them in third place, 2.5 games behind the division leading the Cincinnati Reds. Here are some of the things that stood out for me in the first half of 2012.
Carlos Beltran has been a pretty nice consolation prize. Cardinals fans were understandably disappointed when their first baseman decided to leave the Midwest last December. But GM John Mozeliak quickly moved to lock up Beltran to a two-year deal. Beltran has been an RBI machine in the first half and was justly voted to start in the outfield in the upcoming All-Star game in Kansas City.
Yadier Molina was worth that big contract extension. Cardinals fans braced themselves to lose another key member of the team when Molina engaged in contract talks during spring training. Mercifully, the drama was short-lived. Molina signed an extension that will keep him in the Birds-on-the-Bat uniform at least through the 2017 season. Molina has justified that faith in him by hitting .309 in the first half. He's also improved his power. His 13 home runs and 45 RBIs have him on pace to shatter his previous career highs. All the while, of course, Yadi is playing the best defense in the league.
Plea to Allen Craig - stay healthy, please! Craig simply needs to stay on the field. He has more RBIs than games played (43 to 41), and his OPS of 1.020 would trail only Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen if he had enough at-bats to qualify for the league lead. I am not sure what manager Mike Matheny will do when Lance Berkman returns (maybe as early as next week), but Craig needs to play every day. Cardinals fans are dreaming of the production they could see from Craig if he got 500 at-bats.
Adam Wainwright isn't quite right - yet. As a Wainwright fan I'm thrilled he is back and pitching this year. He doesn't seem to be his old self, though we have seen glimpses of that form. If Wainwright can find his mojo in the second half and regain ace status, the team may have its best baseball ahead of it.
The pitching has to take advantage of the great offense. The Cardinals are again sporting one of the best offenses in the National League, but the pitching staff has lagged behind a bit. The staff ERA stands at 4.03, 9th in the league, and the bullpen ERA is 10th in the NL at 4.51. The Cardinals right now can really only count on Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte out of the pen. They will need some more reliable relievers if they want to be playing in October this year.A native of St. Louis, Brad Boeker has rooted for the Cardinals for over 40 years.