I’ve been writing a lot about the Kansas City Royals lately on the blog - for good reason, obviously - but nonetheless I’m feeling a little guilty.
And feeling like I’m betraying my beloved St. Louis Cardinals somewhat.
Because I can’t live with guilt, I’m going to write today about the Cardinals and their MVP candidates, much as I did the other day with the Royals.
I’m surprised somewhat that the Cardinals are playing as well as they are currently. It’s been a really difficult season for St. Louis, which has not been able to find an offensive identity.
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Matt Holliday is having a down season. Allen Craig was so bad that the Cardinals eventually traded him to Boston. Yadier Molina wasn’t hitting like he normally does before he went on the disabled list in early July with a bad thumb.
The Cardinals aren’t hitting home runs and they’re making due with a couple of rookies - second baseman Kolten Wong and right fielder Oscar Taveras - who are learning on the job. And it’s not always pretty.
But St. Louis is just 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central. The Cardinals just completed a 6-1 homestand before heading out on the road to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. They’re in possession of the No. 1 wild card playoff spot and have been looking crisp of late.
So now let’s look at the five top team MVP candidates:
5) Matt Adams, first base - Frankly, I thought Adams would hit more home runs. He has 12. But he has provided a productive bat and he’s been anchored in the clean-up spot for most of the season. His .309 average is fourth best in the National League and he has driven in 55 runs. In a season in which the Cardinals have struggled to score runs, Adams has been reliable. And this season, that’s saying something.
4) Matt Carpenter, third base - Carpenter was a hitting machine in 2013. He’s still the best offensive weapon the Cardinals have, although his numbers have fallen off. Still, Carpenter is valuable at the top of the order for St. Louis with one of the best on-base percentages in the National League. He’s a tough out and a heady and scrappy player. The Cardinals offense, flighty as it has been, would be even more sketchy without Carpenter (.283, .377, .400).
3) Lance Lynn, starting pitcher - I’m going to shamefully admit something here. There were times during the 2012 and 2013 seasons when I wished the Cardinals would have traded Lynn. He produced, but he always slowed down after fast starts. And his behavior on the mound irritated me. When something went wrong, Lynn would wear it on his face. He lacked composure. His emotions too often got the best of him. This season, though, the 27-year-old Lynn has matured into one of the best and most dependable starters in the National League. After pitching seven shutout innings in a win over Cincinnati on Wednesday night, Lynn is 14-8 with a 2.78 ERA. He’s tied for fourth in the league in wins and ranks No. 8 in ERA. Lynn is a horse and has settled in behind Adam Wainwright for an outstanding 1-2 punch in the rotation.
2) Pat Neshek, reliever pitcher - Pat who? You might remember Neshek as the guy who allowed three hits and a couple of runs in the All-Star game this season and was the losing pitcher for the NL. The fact he was in the All-Star game, though, is testament to how good this guy has been. A journeyman 33-year-old, Neshek was picked off the scrap heap by Cardinals general manager John Mozielak during the offseason after pitching for Oakland in 2013. For the A’s, he was just OK. With St. Louis, he’s been the best set-up relief pitcher in the National League. In 57 appearances covering 53.1 innings, Neshek has allowed only 25 hits and six walks while striking out 58. He’s been a great story and a great pitcher, the All-Star game notwithstanding.
1) Adam Wainwright, starting pitcher - As usual, Wainwright has been one of the best pitchers in the National League. He’s 15-7 with a 2.40 ERA and is third in the league in innings pitched. Since missing the 2011 championship season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Wainwright has returned to pitch a ton of innings for St. Louis, including 241.2 during the 2013 regular season, with 35 more in the postseason. His durability is incredible and he’s the top-of-the-rotation ace that every contending team needs.