COMMENTARY | The St. Louis Cardinals found themselves in first place as the opening month of the 2013 season came to a close. Despite averaging over four run per game, the offense has been surprisingly bad and has shown no signs of improvement.
They have scored runs in bunches, stringing together base hits and pushing runs across despite a complete lack of power. The starting pitching has been so outstanding that the team's inability to score more runs has been hidden behind an above-average record.
Still, the the Cardinals will need to find a power stroke if they anticipate continuing to win, and there are some areas that need more improvement than others.
The corner infield
Most teams rely on the corner-infield positions to generate power for the lineup. The Cardinals have been no different, positioning hometown hero David Freese at third and the raw power of Allen Craig at first.
The problem is, through the first month of the season, neither of them has hit a home run and they have combined for just 11 extra-base hits. Craig has been productive in driving in runs, but the power has not shown through at all. Freese has looked over-matched and out of his element after suffering a sore back early on. The only saving grace is surprising rookie Matt Adams, but he ended the first month on the disabled list.
Jon Jay is below average
Late in the 2012 season, center fielder Jon Jay thrust himself to the top of the Cardinals lineup as a legitimate threat as a leadoff hitter. The dawn of 2013 found him returning to mediocrity, hitting just over .200 and getting on base at a rate below .300. His inability to produce at the top of the lineup has left manager Mike Matheny to experiment and left the middle of the lineup with very few opportunities to drive in runs.
Second base suffers along with third
The issue at third base is bad enough, but it amplifies with the adjustments made at second. Freese's lack of performance has led to Matt Carpenter playing third base more often. Carpenter playing third leaves Daniel Descalso, and his .169 batting average, in the lineup at second. A team that is struggling to produce runs on a consistent basis simply cannot afford to give up offense.
The rotation cannot continue at this pace
The starting pitching has been nothing short of phenomenal to this point. Posting an earned run average just over 2.00 and just over a base runner per inning, the rotation has been the reason the team has found success. Expecting them to continue at that pace would be a pipe dream in anyone's world.
The bullpen needs help
The rotation has held up the team to this point and the bullpen has done its share of letting the team down. The relief corps has produced the worst earned run average in the National League and is allowing opposing hitters to produce a .293 batting average. The offense is going to need to give the bullpen larger leads to work with if it does not expect to keep losing games late.
The Cardinals have the makeup to be one of the best teams in the National League this season, but they are going to have to overcome some lackluster performances in key areas if they expect to stay at the top for much longer.
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