If you had to name the St. Louis Cardinals 2013 MVP through these first 50 games, chances are very good you’d say Yadier Molina. Right?
After Monday’s 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals, Yadi is currently leading the team with a .346 batting average — which is third in the National League — and has 27 RBI, 14 doubles, three homers and is tied for the team lead with three stolen bases.
Perhaps even more valuable is his leadership behind the plate. With all the injuries to the starters and fluctuations in the bullpen, 16 pitchers have taken the mound for the Cardinals thus far including seven starters (with an eighth coming this Thursday). And still the team leads the majors in overall ERA at 3.11 as well as in starter ERA at 2.64. The reliever ERA also is improving, currently at 4.32 (and two NL and two AL teams are below that).
Yadi also was a big part of yesterday’s win. He was batting second for only the third time ever, and immediately made it count — giving the Cards a 2-0 lead with this bomb toward the fountains in left at Kauffman Stadium. He was far from finished, however.
In his second at-bat, he doubled to score Daniel Descalso. Next time up, a sacrifice fly to score Pete Kozma — giving him four RBI by the fourth inning. He walked in the sixth and was intentionally walked in the eighth. Yes, Yadi is that much of a BAMF — the Royals walked him to get to Carlos Beltran (and probably to set up a double-play opportunity but we’ll just go with they were afraid of him).
And the four runs Yadi drove in were enough on their own, as Adam Wainwright allowed three in his eight innings pitched. It was a slugfest early on — Waino allowed 10 of the 12 hits he gave up and all three runs in the first four innings — but then he settled in and ended the day with five strikeouts and, for the sixth time in 11 starts, no walks. He improved his record to 7-3.
Edward Mujica, of course, pitched the ninth and earned his 15th save, which ties him with Craig Kimbrel for second in the National League.
And Mujica’s emergence as the closer may be one of the best surprises through the first 50 games. After the struggles and blown saves early on, he took over on April 18 and has been a stabilizing force ever since.
The exceptional starting pitching is another of the stories thus far, with the surprise being the success of the rookies who’ve stepped in because of injuries: John Gast and tonight’s starter, Tyler Lyons.
Another nice surprise: Pete Kozma. Remember all that angst throughout spring training and early in the season about shortstop? Kozma is hitting .276.
Also a highlight: Matt Carpenter — both as a lead-off man and defensively at second base. In 29 games batting first, he’s hitting .313/.410/.409 (and .303/.388/.436 overall). In the field, after learning second base in the off-season, he’s only made one error at the position — and that was on Saturday.
All in all, through 50 games the Cardinals have been tremendous. They’re in first place in the NL Central and have the best record in the majors. They won their 33rd game of the season on Memorial Day — last year the team won its 33rd game on June 14 (and were only two games over .500 at the time, compared to 16 today. And their season-high for games over .500 last year was 14).
They’ve also been resilient, as evidenced by the success of the pitching (and, as mentioned, the force of Yadi behind the plate). And now Thursday could bring about the moment we’ve all been waiting for — the possible major league debut of Michael Wacha. As reported by Derrick Goold, general manager John Mozeliak was meeting with the Cards coaching staff last night to discuss the options.
So, things are looking good through 50 games — though, as we all know, the season is a marathon and not a sprint. Every win, though, is definitely a plus.
The Cardinals look to continue their winning ways tonight in Kansas City, with Tyler Lyons making his second start against Ervin Santana. Game time is 7:10 p.m.
For the Royals view of this week’s series, check out Drinking the Royals Blue-Aid.
Christine Coleman is the lead St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.