While the Cardinals have certainly disappointed with their sub .500 start, I still have the sense that this team could prove the "experts" who think they can't compete wrong.
Here are some reasons why:
Despite Chris Carpenter's lousy start Tuesday night, the Redbirds have one of the better starting rotations in the National League. One bad night doesn't change the fact that Carp would have to be in the conversation of who major league managers would want to be able to lean on to start the seventh game of the World Series. Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook are capable second and third starters and McClellan and Jaime Garcia are well above average for back of the rotation starters.
Few clubs can match the heart of their lineup against that of the Redbirds. Albert Pujols is suddenly starting to prove that he is one of the best three or four hitters in all of baseball. And Matt Holliday isn't far behind. Lance Berkman, frankly, looked like he might be washed up in 2010. His bat was slow and so were his legs. But he looks like a new man with a trimmed down physique. And his recent hot hitting is no fluke. He's not faking a high average with some bloopers and flairs that find holes. He's cranking the ball all over the field -- and out of the ballpark. Throw in a maturing Colby Rasmus in the two slot and a healthy David Freese at number six and the Birds -- as they have proved since Holliday returned from injury -- that they are going to score runs in bunches.
The outfield defense is much better than expected. Berkman was expected to be a disaster and, in short, he's not one. Berkman has caught everything he could reasonably be expected to handle, he covers a reasonable amount of ground and his arm has actually looked pretty darn good in right field. Holliday has been a very good outfielder for the Cardinals -- minus that one play against the Dodgers in the 2009 playoffs. Rasmus, who still takes odd paths to the ball and who needs to work on his throwing, covers a lot of ground and has a chance to become a great fielder.
A lot of what happens in the National League Central is going to hinge on which team stays the healthiest. But I disagree with the assessment that the Cardinals just don't have a chance. A lot of things will have to go right for them to make the post season. But it isn't mission impossible.
Take away a bad play here or there in the first week, be it a blown save or a failure to drive in a runner from third base with less than two out and the Cardinals could easily be 8-4 right now.