ST. LOUIS — Cardinals players have been asked so often to describe Yadier Molina that they’re all out of superlatives. When he does something now to win yet another game, they look at each other and shake their heads like the rest of us.
“He’s a joke,” Matt Carpenter said Wednesday night. “The guy is that good. You can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a joke. That’s really all there is to it.”
Seriously, the only joke at this point is to consider another player more deserving of the NL MVP award than the 29-year-old St. Louis catcher.
Yes, I know. It’s too early to be talking end-of-season awards. Plus, Molina lacks the homer and RBI totals that many MVP voters still (over) rely on. Finally, the steamy St. Louis summer still to come could wear down Molina and certainly eat away at his majors-best .365 batting average.
But if they handed out MVPs for half-seasons, Molina already could be figuring out where his tattoo could be squeezed in with all the Gold Glove and World Series ink. Count Cubs manager Dale Sveum among the believers.
He was calling Molina the MVP hours before Molina hit a two-run homer that proved the difference in the Cardinals’ 4-1 victory Wednesday night. “In the middle of it again,” Sveum said afterward. “He’s on fire.”
Sveum, a one-time hitting coach, has been coaching or managing in the NL Central since 2006, so he has had a close-up view from the opposing dugout as Molina has developed from slap-hitting defensive stalwart into “one of the game’s better hitters.”
“His mechanics are so good right now. His bat stays through the strike zone an incredibly long time,” Sveum said. “He’s there to hit every single pitch. You never see him take a pitch off. He uses his mental ability now, too, to know what goes on with pitchers and how they’re going to pitch him.”
Cubs right-hander Edwin Jackson believes Molina out-smarted him in the sixth inning of a 1-1 tie. After Molina fouled off a fastball that was down and in and made the count 1-2, Jackson said he thought Molina might be looking away. Jackson decided to go down and in again. He put the 93-mph two-seamer where he wanted, but Molina smacked it into the left-field seats like he knew what was coming.
“I got beat by a pitch that I thought was a pretty good pitch,” Jackson said. “Either he was looking for it, he guessed right or it was right in his zone. It was the pitch I wanted to throw.”
Jackson was with the Cardinals for their 2011 run to the World Series championship, so he already was plenty familiar with Molina. Jackson, however, didn’t think Molina had gained added advantage from having caught him.
After all, Molina has been out-smarting Jackson for years. He is 9 for 15 with three homers off the right-hander with much of that damage — seven hits in nine at-bats — done before Jackson spent half a season in St. Louis.
“He’s developed as a hitter,” Jackson said. “He’s getting better every year. He can carry a team, he can carry a pitching staff.”
He hits when it counts, too. Molina is hitting .408 this season with runners in scoring position and .414 in close-and-late situations.
“I like to be in that moment,” Molina said. “I like to be there when the team needs me. I’m not afraid to be out there at that time.”
Defensively, Molina threw out Luis Valbuena trying to steal second on a called pitchout that could have backfired. As Molina stood, he had to reach up and well to his left to catch the ball but the adjustment mattered little when Valbuena became the 11th runner (in 27 attempts) thrown out by the five-time Gold Glove winner.
Molina also was charged with a passed ball on an inside pitch that he either nonchalanted or was crossed up on. He also took a tough error, his third, when he failed to hang onto a throw from center as Anthony Rizzo barreled into his glove.
That came in the second inning, which left Molina plenty of time to do what seems to be spoiling his teammates.
“You know he’s going to do something great every night. That’s the kind of player he is,” Carpenter said. “I’ve said it before. He’s irreplaceable. He’s a joke.”
And he’s on his way to becoming an MVP.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.