Watching St. Louis take two out of three against the Brewers over the weekend, it felt at times like the Cardinals NLCS hitting barrage had never ended. With the exception of Saturday, when Zack Greinke was simply overwhelming, the Cards lineup was outstanding. Even including Saturday, the Redbirds hit .319/.379/.531 with six home runs and six doubles. Considering the Brewers were throwing the top of their rotation, it might be tempting to suggest that perhaps this is an indicator of larger problems with the team. While there is always the chance that something unforeseen might be at work that could undermine the success for Milwaukee, there are some good reasons why it’s probably not an indicator of much of anything.
First off, the Cardinals have one whale of a lineup. They led the National League in runs scored in 2011, averaging 4.70 runs/game. While they did that with a lineup that included Albert Pujols most of the year, it’s important to remember that he had by far his worst year as a pro, batting a mere (for him) .299/.366/.541. They went out and replaced Pujols in the off-season with Carlos Beltran, who actually posted a .300/.385/.525 line playing his home games in a pair of pitching parks all year in 2011. Not a bad tradeoff, when one considers that Beltran’s contract was for roughly 1/10th of the value of the one Pujols got from the Angels. Beyond that, the Cardinals also have shortstop Rafael Furcal signed for the whole season in 2012, instead of just the last two months. While the team probably can’t expect quite the season they got out of Lance Berkman in 2011, there is every reason to think that they can expect more than what they got from Matt Holliday, so the middle of the lineup figures to be roughly as potent as last year. It’s also a pretty deep lineup, with relatively strong 6-7-8 hitters like Yadier Molina and Jon Jay.
Another important thing to consider is that the Brewers, with just a few exceptions, were throwing a lot of their long and middle relief at the Cardinals on both Friday and Sunday after the starters left the game. Marco Estrada, Manny Parra and Tim Dillard have combined to pitch 8.1 of the Brewers 27 innings thus far in 2012. As one might expect, they’ve accounted for eight of the team’s 20 runs allowed. That’s not to say that they’re bad pitchers, it’s just that when a team asks guys like Parra and Dillard to soak up innings instead of get specific, targeted outs, there will be times they’ll get knocked around like this. Beyond that, while it’s never a good thing to see a top-flight starter like Yovani Gallardo get touched up for four home runs and to be out of the game by the 5th inning, it is something that occasionally happens to most pitchers at some point, especially when they face really good lineups like the Cardinals. Fortunately for Yo, he won’t have to face the Cardinals every time he pitches.
It’s never fun to lose, especially to a team that has often been a thorn in the Brewers’ side over the years. It shouldn’t really be surprising that something like this happened, though. The Cardinals are obviously an older team, and while they’re at least mostly healthy and fresh to open the season, they’re going to be pretty formidable to face. As the season goes on, though, it’s quite likely that they won’t be fielding this same patient and powerful veteran lineup on a daily basis due to fatigue, injury and just plain aging. It’s that long view that needs to be taken right now, because while it’s going to be very hard to beat the Cardinals at their best consistently, they figure to be at their best less often than most teams. On to Chicago to face the Cubs.