Stan McNeal hands out the Cardinals' first-month report card
May 1, 2014 at 3:40p ET
ST. LOUIS -- Their pitching has been superb, but the Cardinals' hitting, defense and ability to do the little things have been lacking. Put them all together and their so-so start seems about right.
Look at all the players who need to step it up and their 15-14 record does, too.
Following are one-month grades for the 30 players who appeared in at least one game for the Cardinals in April. Grades are based on the player's role as well as performance.
A IS FOR EXCELLENT
Adam Wainwright. I'm not sure about all the talk that he's reinventing himself on the mound. But I'm sure about this: He's pitched as well as any starter in the game. In all six starts, he's worked at least seven innings, and in four of them, he hasn't allowed a run. That's how you enter May with a 5-1 record and 1.20 ERA.
Yadier Molina. He's been so good that ranking him below anyone seems like a disservice. But that's how dominant Wainwright has been. Molina leads the Cardinals with a .350 batting average, .917 OPS and, as always, making the right decisions on the field.
Pat Neshek. Signed in February to a minor-league contract, the sidewinding right-hander has emerged as the most pleasant surprise on the team. Neshek has allowed only nine of the 48 batters he's faced to reach base while striking out 16 in 12 2/3 innings. As he proclaimed in spring training, his fastball is back.
Randy Choate. The 38-year-old lefty isn't pitching like the oldest player on the roster. He's been even better than last year, so effective that he's not just a lefty specialist anymore. He's facing right-handers, too, and he's getting everyone out. Lefty hitters are 1 for 17 against him, righties 2 for 17.
B IS FOR PRETTY DARN GOOD
Trevor Rosenthal. His fastball velocity is down about 1 mph, to 96.7 mph, and his ERA is an unsightly 4.73. But he's had only one outing that cost the Cardinals, and that came in the second inning of an outing he probably should no longer have been in. Really, is there a closer in either league you'd rather have? When you factor in his calm demeanor, performance in the postseason, improved breaking pitches and, yes, his fastball, I can't think of one.
Matt Holliday. He's hitting .226 on the road and has fewer homers than last April (3 to 2) but he's carried the offense at home with a .364 average, 1.041 OPS and 10 RBIs in 12 games. He's also played some excellent defense in left field -- surprisingly good, even -- and it's always impressive when a middle-of-the-order hitter has no more strikeouts than walks. Holliday's strikeout and walk rates are both, so far, the best of his career.
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Matt Carpenter. You expected his numbers to drop from last year, and they have. But the Cardinals can live with this kind of dip. Carpenter still has a .366 OBP and ranks among the top five in the NL in runs scored. Watching him grind at-bats remains a treat. Watching him at third base, where he's on a pace for 30 errors, admittedly has been a little disappointing.
Michael Wacha. His past two starts have been out of character -- five walks in one, five consecutive base runners in the other -- but Wacha continues to impress. His strikeout rate is up and his walk rate down since his rookie season, and five of his starts qualify as quality.
Matt Adams. The Cardinals need more from the cleanup spot than two homers and eight RBIs. But if Adams continues to hit in the .320 neighborhood, his production numbers figure to rise. He doesn't, after all, look like a singles hitter. He doesn't swing the bat like one, either.
Carlos Martinez. Not many pitchers show the athleticism of this 22-year-old, and even fewer can throw a 97-mph sinker. Martinez has experienced a couple of adjustment pains, but the sight of him coming out of the bullpen has become as comforting a sight for the Cardinals as seeing Molina behind the plate.
Joe Kelly. He allowed only one earned run in his first three starts before landing on the disabled list because of a hamstring he injured sprinting to first. From all indications, he remains a couple of weeks from returning.
Jon Jay. He seems to have regained the center-field job that he had lost when the Cardinals traded for Peter Bourjos. If Jay continues to hit .284 with a .351 OBP, he won't have to worry about playing time.
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Tony Cruz. He's played in only seven games and has 15 at-bats, but still he's seen about twice as much action as last April. He's made enough of his opportunity for Matheny to feel more at ease spelling Molina. Still, the manager admitted resting Molina on Wednesday after a night game was not easy.
S IS FOR STEP IT UP
Allen Craig. He hit two homers and reached base 10 times in the final three games of the homestand, finally putting behind a slow start that apparently was, in fact, nothing more than a slow start.
Craig, however, knows how difficult it is to hit in the big leagues and stopped short of saying he figured out the reason behind his early struggles. "The challenge always is figuring out what's going wrong," he said. "Maybe early in the season, it was a little bit of timing. Recently, it's been finding some holes. You stay level mentally and keep hitting the ball hard and you're going to find holes and that's that."
Lance Lynn. His starts never seem to go all that smooth, but the guy just keeps on winning. Sabermetricians might not be impressed with his 3.60 ERA, but the Cardinals won't snub their noses over his 4-1 record.
Shelby Miller. He's 3-2, just like he was at this time last year. But that's about the only stat that's the same. In 30 2/3 innings last April, Miller struck out 33, walked 10 and gave up three homers. This year: 34 1/3 innings (in one more start), 26 strikeouts, 21 walks and seven homers. With Jaime Garcia on the mend, Miller needs to find a groove if he wants to keep secure his spot in the rotation.
Kevin Siegrist. He's still throwing 95-mph fastballs and looks like the hard-throwing lefty who dominated left-handed hitters last season, but his numbers say otherwise. Lefty hitters have gone 7 for 18 and struck out only three times against him this season, compared to 8 for 68 with 27 strikeouts all last year. Stay tuned.
Jhonny Peralta. He hasn't been as consistent on defense as was advertised and he enters May as the lone regular hitting under .200. But if Peralta hits six home runs every month like he did in April, his deficiencies will be overshadowed.
Kolten Wong. If the offense had been producing to last season's level, the Cardinals might have kept Wong in the majors to work through a slow stretch. But in need of a jolt, they sent him to Memphis and promoted Greg Garcia. GM John Mozeliak says that Wong's stay in the minors could be brief.
Daniel Descalso. He's professional, versatile and experienced, which makes it easy to attribute his 4-for-32 April to a slow start. If he's 8 for 64 at the end of May, there could be a problem.
Peter Bourjos. Two stolen bases put him way off the pace for his goal of 40, but it's hard to run when you don't get on base, and it's hard to get on base when you're not playing. A slow start cost Bourjos the grip he had on the center-field job coming out of spring training. Regaining it now won't be easy.
Seth Maness. Lacking the precise command that made his sinker so effective in 2013, the second-year right-hander has allowed runs in five of his nine outings and is being passed over in the kind of tight situations where he thrived last year. He has induced only one double-play grounder in 11 innings; last year he averaged one every four innings.
Mark Ellis. He says the knee issue that put him on the disabled list at season's start isn't a problem. But his lack of production has been. Ellis is hitting .133, hasn't scored a run and his strikeout rate (1/3.9 plate appearances) is second-highest on the team after Bourjos.
I IS FOR SMALL SAMPLE SIZE
Tyler Lyons. He's filled in fine during Kelly's absence but really hasn't done enough to warrant remaining in St. Louis when Kelly returns.
Greg Garcia. Matheny describes the well-rounded Garcia as a "baseball player." In other words, a prototypical Cardinal. I can see him moving into Descalso's role someday, though it would be surprising if that day arrives anytime soon.
Randal Grichuk. He looked good in center field and has hit well in Memphis. But after he got his first hit in his first start, the three strikeouts that followed were an indication that he's probably not in the majors for the long haul just yet.
Eric Fornataro. Since being called up when Keith Butler was sent down, Fornataro has turned in four strong outings and one lousy one. That's probably not good enough to keep him in St. Louis when the pitchers on the DL begin to return.
C IS FOR SEE YOU LATER
Shane Robinson. A 2-for-20 start in limited duty earned him a trip to Class AAA. Given all the young outfield depth in the organization, it's fair to wonder if Robinson will make it back to Busch Stadium in a Cardinals uniform.
Pete Kozma. He made the Opening Day roster only because Ellis started on the disabled list but didn't get much of a chance to play (four innings at shortstop, 1 for 3 at the plate).
Keith Butler. Like Kozma, Butler was fortunate to make the Opening Day roster. Like Kozma, he didn't do anything when he was up to expect him to be back anytime soon.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.