The Cardinals have consistently played well in 2013 while juggling various injuries to the starting pitching staff and a bullpen that faced the loss of closer Jason Motte before the season began. St. Louis has relied on several young players, such as Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, to carry the load so far and the entire team has delivered.
But anytime there is so much trust placed on rookies and youngsters, there are bound to be risks and inconsistencies that come with the territory.
So will the Cardinals continue to be baseball's best team throughout the second half of the season? Will the offense continue to produce 4.96 runs per game, the third-most in baseball? Will the young pitching staff be able to hold up through the hot summer days in St. Louis?
Here are five bold predictions for the Cardinals second half to the season:
1. Allen Craig will emerge as the leading MVP candidate in the National League
Craig should already be considered a serious candidate for the award, but is often times overshadowed by his own teammate, Yadier Molina. But if Craig -- who is tied for second in the NL with 74 RBIs and is second in batting average at .333 behind Molina -- can find his power stroke, he will catapult to the top of the MVP discussion, especially if the Cardinals remain in front of the pack in the NL Central.
Craig has just 10 home runs on the season, but he hit 22 bombs in just 119 games last season. If he can match that pace during the second half, Craig will end up with a monster season.
2. Jon Jay will end the season with a .280 average
The former leadoff hitter's struggles at the plate have been well-documented. The center fielder is hitting just .250 on the season and many Cardinals fans are hoping the team can find a suitable replacement, namely top prospect Oscar Taveras, sooner rather than later.
But Jay has consistently been a guy who has hit close to .300 and has gone on prolonged hitting streaks before. During his first three full seasons in the big leagues, Jay has never hit lower than .297. Even when factoring in this season, the Miami Hurricanes product is a career .290 hitter. Look for Jay's average at the end of the season to be above .280.
3. Carlos Martinez will start more games than Chris Carpenter
Chris Carpenter made his first rehab start Monday night for Double-A Springfield, and it was a mild success. Cardinals fans are hopeful that the veteran can add an additional presence to the starting rotation.
But asking Carpenter to become a meaningful contributor is asking a lot. What he is trying to accomplish has rarely been done before, and there is a good chance he does not make it.
Meanwhile, the team has already added Carlos Martinez into the mix in the bullpen after stretching him out at Triple-A Memphis. Martinez dazzled in a relief appearance against the Chicago Cubs over the weekend and seems ready to make a bigger impact. Look for Martinez to eventually get the ball as a starter in the Cardinals' rotation in the near future.
4. Adam Wainwright will win 22 games
With a 12-5 record, Wainwright is already one of the leading candidates for the Cy Young Award in the National League. Wainwright will cement his candidacy and the award by compiling 10 more victories over the second half and finish the season with a career-high 22 wins.
Wainwright is the horse of the Cardinals' pitching staff. He leads all of baseball with 146.2 innings pitched and there is no reason to believe he will slow down anytime soon. Eighty percent of the time, the ace records a quality start. Couple that with the Cardinals' offensive production and Wainwright will have plenty of opportunities to win more games.
Wainwright may also accomplish another incredible feat. He actually has a chance to record more wins than walks. The ace has walked just 15 hitters all season and leads baseball with an incredible 8.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
5. The Cardinals will win the National League Central division
The Cardinals, obviously, have a head start on the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in leading the division by a game. But the team also has two games in hand over the Reds and unless the Pirates make some moves to bolster their roster, the Cardinals have a deeper, more well-rounded team than the upstart Pirates.
Conclusion: The second half will be a lot like the first half
The Cardinals have the best record in baseball for a reason. The offense is stacked and the pitching, while young, is supremely talented with more help on the way. As long as the Cardinals are able to maintain what has occurred during the season's first half, they should be well on their way to yet another playoff appearance.
You can follow Rudd on Twitter @CoreyRudd.
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