Cardinals are playing like a team that's ready to make its move
JUL 10, 2014 1:10p ET
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina should learn sometime Thursday how long he might be sidelined. One of the team's best starters, Michael Wacha, is out for who knows how long and another starter, Jaime Garcia, has been lost for the season. Their most productive hitter from last season, Allen Craig, remains mired in the worst stretch of his career.
So why does it look like the Cardinals finally are ready to make their move to the top of the NL Central?
Well, read this in a hurry because such thinking will change if there's bad news regarding Molina's sprained right thumb. But if Molina avoids the DL or, really, requires a minimum-or-close-to-it stay, there have been enough signs this week to believe the Cardinals are on their way to first place.
THE BREWERS ARE SLUMPING
Milwaukee was 19 games over .500 and owned a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL Central when the month started. By the time the Cardinals arrive at Miller Park on Friday, the Brewers could be just 11 over and their lead down to one game.
What's gone wrong in their eight-losses-in-nine-games skid? This might sound familiar: They're not hitting.
The Brewers are averaging 2.5 runs a game this month and are hitting .202 as a team. Carlos Gomez is 6 for his last 31, Aramis Ramirez 6 for 30 and Jean Segura 3 for 29. Even Jonathan Lucroy has cooled off, at 6 for his last 25. Only Ryan Braun among regulars is hitting over .300 this month, and he's dealing with a sore back.
THE CARDINALS' YOUNGSTERS ARE RISING
Matt Carpenter continues to get on base and Matt Holliday has had a couple of strong games, but the main reason to believe the Cardinals' offense is heading for better times is the performance of young guns Matt Adams, Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras. The trio has not played in the same lineup often, but they have for the past two nights and have made things happen.
Adams has emerged as the lineup's most dangerous hitter and should become a fixture in the three-hole or cleanup spot. With his left shoulder healed, Wong is showing just how dynamic an offensive player he can be. After stealing his 10th base in 11 attempts Wednesday night, he said he still has 30 as a goal. Taveras finally has had a couple of balls bounce his way, and you can sense his confidence growing. Do not be surprised if he takes this offense on his back for a stretch in the second half. He is that talented.
LANCE LYNN AND CARLOS MARTINEZ ARE GROWING
Lynn seems to be in position to overcome the second-half fades that marred his first two seasons in the rotation. Though he never has lacked for confidence, it's like his five-hit shutout over the Yankees -- the first of his career as well as his first complete game -- buoyed him even more. He became the first Cardinal to post three 10-win first halves since Bob Gibson in Wednesday's 5-2 victory and there's little doubt this has been his best half. Lynn has had three scoreless starts since the Yankee game, and in the eight starts since then he has given up more than two runs only twice. And one of the bad outings was related to a blister problem, which he apparently has moved past.
Martinez still has made only five starts, but just in the way he carries himself on the mound he is looking more comfortable each time out. As manager Mike Matheny pointed out after Martinez worked six innings Monday night, the 22-year-old no longer is focusing on showing how nasty he can be as much as he is just trying to get hitters out. Still, there's nothing wrong with nasty, as anyone who saw him strike out Andrew McCutchen on three swing-and-miss 98- and 99-mph fastballs the other night can attest.
An underrated benefit of having Martinez in the rotation is the life he brings to the dugout as well as the mound. When he's stationed in the bullpen, he's not around to deliver water to a teammate after a home run. When he's starting, he has more chances to puff out his chest and strut around on the mound. Watch him for a little while when he's on and you quickly realize this is a 22-year-old who has moved into his dream job and is darn sure going to enjoy it. Good for him.
The way the Cardinals have been playing lately, he should have even more fun in the second half.