The stingiest pitching staff in the majors is by far the biggest reason the St. Louis Cardinals, who have been to the NL Championship Series or better a franchise-best four straight seasons, have a good shot to keep that run going. They have a 2.71 ERA, best at the break in the majors since the 1981 Astros posted a 2.81 ERA, according to STATS. They landed three pitchers on the All-Star team: 10-game winners Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, plus closer Trevor Rosenthal.
Wacha, Lance Lynn, Martinez, John Lackey and Jaime Garcia have a collective 2.84 ERA, the best pre-break showing by the franchise since 1968 when Bob Gibson set a major-league record with a 1.12 ERA.
Here are four more things to watch for the rest of the way with the Cardinals:
• Spotty offense. Holliday’s return to the No. 3 slot could be a key for a lineup that’s underachieved much of the time scoring three or fewer runs nearly half of the time. He’s a proven run-producer, one of three active players with 1,000 career RBIs and a .300 batting average.
All-Stars Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina have been two-way standouts at shortstop and catcher, but the Cardinals could use more production from Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward and the streaky Mark Reynolds. Carpenter is back at leadoff after struggling batting second, which figures to help, and Heyward has picked it up after a slow start.
Matheny’s strategy seems to be keeping the pressure off the bats.
"Our pitching sets the tone," he said. Guys have been doing a nice job of keeping us in games all the way through, the bullpen has done a nice job of finishing it up. Finding a way to win has almost been like a theme for our club."
• Fill in the blanks. Randal Grichuk, once billed as an add-on in the swap of David Freese to the Angels for Peter Bourjos, has thrived with regular duty in left field in Holliday’s absence with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 191 at-bats. The ball jumps off his bat. Reynolds and a handful of rookies have made Adams’ likely season-ending quad injury in May less of a blow. Kevin Siegrist and Miguel Socolovich have stepped up in place of Walden in the set-up role.
• Comeback kids. Garcia’s contribution is a luxury coming off career-threatening thoracic outlet surgery for nerve issues that cost him much of the previous two seasons. In seven starts, he’s 3-3 with a 1.69 ERA, and he could return from a groin injury this weekend. Wacha shows no signs of the stress reaction to his pitching shoulder that cost him most of the second half of last season.
• Home prowess. The success story begins at Busch Stadium, where they’re 31-11 for a major league-best .738 winning percentage, spurred by capacity crowds most games and a 2.31 staff ERA. Before the break, they won 11 of 14 home series.