Here's a snapshot of the Cardinals roster through the All-Star Break. I graded players not against the average major leaguer, but on how well they performed the specific job they have been asked to do by the Redbirds.
General Manager John Mozeliak: B+
Few thought the Cardinals would be serious contenders this season. But Mozeliak put together a club that is in first place at the All-Star Break. One of the main reasons this club has been so successful is because of his boldest move -- the widely panned decision to sign Lance Berkman to an $8-million contract. Berkman has been the team MVP in the first have and has put up totals in half a season that many would have thought were a reach for the full year. On the negative side, Mozeliak skimped in the bullpen and it shows. The Cardinals relied too much on players with iffy histories. Addition Brian Tallet has been a bust. Middle relievers are often one of the cheapest components of a team. So it's a shame that the high dollar producers have so often been undermined because the Redbirds didn't invest a few more dollars here.
Manager Tony LaRussa: A-
People love to say that La Russa can't manage young talent. But he's got a roster full of it this season with rookies Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Descalso, Tony Cruz and Lance Lynn as well as second year players Jon Jay and Allen Craig all playing major rolls. La Russa gets a tip of the cap for guiding the Redbirds to first place despite the loss of Adam Wainwright for the season, Matt Holliday for two stints, Punto and Laird for extended stays on the disabled list. Kyle McClellan, Sanchez and Berkman also have spent time amongst the walking wounded. The fact that the Cardinals are in first place despite all their losses is nothing short of remarkable. This may be La Russa's best managing job with the Cardinals.
3 Ryan Theriot: B-
Theriot has hit well enough -- although he slumped a little bit before the All-Star Break to see his average fall to .285 with a .331 on base percentage. But his defense has been somewhere between very poor to average depending on the day. He doesn't have much range. But throw the Ozzie Smith plays out the window and it is maddening how many routine balls he botches. I suspect that his sinking average comes from him taking his fielding concerns to the plate. I still believe the best thing the Cardinals could do to help the offense AND the defense would be to move Theriot to second base where his range and weak arm would be less of a factor.
4 Yadier Molina: B+
Yadi seems to be playing a half a step slower this year than in the past. He seems to be content to try to block balls with his mitt than shifting his body in front of them like he has in the past. He also seems to not scare runners on the basepaths like he used to. But who could blame the guy?He's taken an awful lot of wear and tear over the past five seasons. And even if we're getting 90 percent of 2006-2010 Molina, that's still amongst the best in baseball. Yadi may be a victim of his own reputation. Not only do we expect him to be perfect at the plate, but runners get more picky about taking their chances with him, so his caught stealings and pick-offs suffer. He's still a great leader on the field and his .285 batting average is excellent for a career .269 hitter.
5 Albert Pujols: B
How do you grade Pujols? In comparison to the rest of baseball, or in comparison with himself? Pujols, at .280, is having his worst year for batting average by 32 points. But he's got 18 homers, 54 runs scored and 50 RBIs despite spending time on the disabled list with a broken arm. He's still the best defensive first baseman in the game, too. Before he went on the disabled list, Pujols seemed to be getting into a comfort zone at the plate. He stumbled a little bit in his first few games after the return. But he smashed the ball all over the field the last two games before the break. So, hopefully, he'll have a huge second half.
7 Matt Holliday: A-
It's too bad that Holliday missed time with appendicitis and a strained leg muscle. Because that's all that's keeping him from being talked about as an MVP candidate. He's hitting .324 and third in the NL with a .411 on base percentage. He has 14 homers and 19 doubles. Besides a misplay here and there, his outfield play has been pretty strong. It's amazing how people were lighting up the phones on sports talk radio about how his contract was ridiculous a year ago after he signed a seven-year deal before last season. And now when his contract comes up, the only word that is used is "bargain."
8 Nick Punto: Incomplete
He started the season on the disabled list and then ended up back there in June. But when he's played, Punto has been a breath of fresh air on a defensively challenged team. I'm eager to see if he can stay healthy and stand up to the rigors of a lot of playing time in the second half.
12 Lance Berkman: A
If the season ended today, Berkman would be a legitimate choice for National League MVP. He's batting .290 with a National League leading 24 homers and .602 slugging percentage. The announcement that he would go back to playing the outfield for the first time in five years was dismissed as folly. But Berkman hasn't been bad out there at all. He's looked better in the outfield than he has at first base when he played there in place of the injured Pujols. Berkman has already justified his $8 million paycheck. Any thing else he can give is gravy. And the Cardinals would be crazy if they didn't try to bring him back for 2012. Berkman is as good of a cheerleader as he is a ballplayer and he's given the Redbirds a lot more life this year than they had last season.
13 Gerald Laird: Incomplete
It's unfair to grade Laird based on his limited playing time thanks to injury. But when he has been on the field, he has been a very capable defender and has worked well with the pitching staff. Laird also has a capable bat off the bench. And that's why Cruz was kept around as a third catcher. Instead of being held back for emergency duty, Laird and Cruz will be available off the bench in pitching hitting or double switch situations.
15 Jon Jay: A
Jay has largely been dismissed as an extra. But there is no denying that the guy bring a ton of hustle and grit to the game. And it's not like he's talentless, either. Drawing a tough assignment Sunday of starting against a lefty, he came through with two hits and drove his batting average to .304. He's a great guy to have around because, not only is he productive, but he doesn't pout about what position he plays or how much he plays. Jay will continue to see plenty of playing time as long as he hits -- not only because of his bat, but also because of his great glove.
21 Allen Craig: B+
He's never going to set the world on fire with his defense. But he's played where he is asked to play -- including some time at second base -- and he's hit very well no matter where he's stashed on the field. Craig's got a .336 batting average and .405 on base percentage. Hopefully he'll be back soon from the cracked knee cap he suffered after running into the stands while trying to catch a ball in right field.
23 David Freese: B+
He spent a month on the disabled list after an errant pitch broke a bone in his hand. But it may be a blessing in disguise for the Cardinals because it saved Freese from a bunch of wear and tear on his surgically repaired ankles. He hasn't shown the power some hoped he would with three homers on the season -- including the game winner he hit Sunday. But his batting average has been more than healthy at .336. With the thumpers the Birds have with Pujols, Holliday and Berkman, I would gladly sacrifice the power if Freese can keep getting on base 40 percent of the time. His defense isn't great, but it has been better than expected so far this year.
26 Kyle Lohse: A
Lohse had to have a bounce back year after two seasons of injury struggles or the Cardinals were sunk without Wainwright. He did the job and then some. Lohse has pitched like an ace with an 8-6 record and a 3.32 ERA than could have been better if not for the bullpen.
28 Colby Rasmus: D
Three years into his career, one would think Colby Rasmus would start to show a little bit of consistency. But he's been in a two-month long slump at the plate and a season-long slump in the field. When did Rasmus become afraid of the outfield wall, his fellow fielders and, apparently, the ball? The guy has all the tools, but he doesn't know how to use any of them. He doesn't situationally hit. He throws to the wrong place constantly and never heard of the cutoff man. He's tentative on the bases. And then we learn that he takes himself out of the game when Berkman and Holliday are injured because he's too tired. Really? Rasmus needs to wake up fast and realize his potential, otherwise he's going to go down as a huge bust.
29 Chris Carpenter: B-
Carp doesn't deserve to be 4-7. He's pitched well enough to be 7-4. But that doesn't mean he's been perfect. His "stuff" has been inconsistent for much of the season. And all it takes is a bad pitch here and there to ruin a pitcher's whole day. But Carpenter is a world class battler. He's notched three impressive wins in his last four start, pitching deep into games when the bullpen desperately needed it. I am very hopeful he is going to be a force in the second half.
30 Jason Motte: B+
The Cardinals reliever is 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA. But he still doesn't have a second pitch he really counts on. It's about time to develop one. Knowing the batter knows what's coming makes me very nervous. But Motte has certainly got the job done more often than not. And it's hard to argue with results.
33 Daniel Descalso: B
No one expected in spring training that Descalso would play half the games before the All-Star Break as the starter at third base. But he's done a reasonably good job at it. He's not going to make anyone forget about Freese's bat. But he's played superior defense when he's been in the lineup. And, while his overall batting average isn't much to write home about at .261, it's more than respectable. And he's had a knack for coming through with big hits when the game is on the line.
35 Jake Westbrook: D+
How can Westbrook be 7-4 while Chris Carpenter is 4-7? It seems impossible, especially when one sees that Westbrook has a 5.34 ERA with 117 hits allowed in 97 2/3 innings compared to Carp's 3.85 ERA. I have always thought that Westbrook was over-rated. But he pitcher really well after being picked up in trade last season and got himself a two-year contract. Now he needs to earn that payday by not only pitching better but by getting deeper into games.
41 Mitchell Boggs: B
I don't get what is going on with Boggs. He's pitched to a 2.97 ERA when he's had a chance to get into games. But he sits on the bullpen bench for extended periods of time -- not to mention he was inexplicably shipped off to Memphis while Ryan Franklin was allowed to collect dust in the big leagues. Is he hurt? What gives? It's not like the Cardinals couldn't use a decent righty reliever.
43 Trever Miller: D
He's allowed 16 hits and 9 walks in 25 1/3 innings. That might not be bad if he was a starter and it was the third week of April. But he's a lefty specialist. Than means Miller's job is to face almost exclusively lefty batters -- and usually only one at that. This means he's usually in games only when the situation is extremely favorable for him... And he's successful an alarmingly low percentage of the time.
46 Kyle McClellan: C+
He was great for the first two months of the season. And he just hasn't been very good at all since then, losing six straight decisions. McClellan has good stuff. But he just doesn't seem to have the endurance to be a starting pitcher. He's had a habit of wearing down as a bullpenner when he topped out at about 75 innings a year. He hit that wall three weeks ago and it's been down hill ever since. I think he would benefit from going back to the bullpen... Otherwise the Cardinals will risk breaking him down physically.
48 Tony Cruz: B+
He didn't hit much in the minors. But Cruz earned a chance to stay after being called up as an emergency replacement for Laird by catching a good game and by hitting .318 when he found himself at the dish. He may have a career as a utility man after we saw him play third base and right field when he wasn't catching.
52 Eduardo Sanchez: B+
The kid burst onto the scene with a flash, striking out five of the first six batters he faced in the big leagues. He's more explosive but less consistent than rookie teammate Salas. But he's put up a great 1.88 ERA with 14 hits allowed in 18 2/3 innings. He's struck out a breathtaking 33 hitters. But his 16 walks are too many and he needs to work on that to be a back of the bullpen pitcher. Sanchez is currently rehabbing in Class AA Springfield and he will hopefully be back in the big leagues soon.
54 Jaime Garcia: A
Garcia has been a workhorse since he stuck with the big league club out of spring training next season. He's pitched well enough that he is reportedly near a four-year contract extension with the Cardinals before he ever hits arbitration. He's 9-3 with a 3.22 ERA.
55 Skip Schumaker: C+
Skippy's batting average has been on the rise since he came back from a stint on the disabled list thanks to a bad elbow. He's batting .267. But he's lost playing time to Punto, Descalso and even Craig. So his future at second base is cloudy.
56 Brian Tallet: D
He could get an incomplete because of all the time he has spent out of action. But I think I have seen enough of him this season to realize how terrible he has been is no fluke. He's allowed 20 hits and five walks in 13 innings -- nearly two baserunners per frame -- and he has an 8.31 ERA, so it's pretty obvious that he's not doing his job. The Cardinals need more lefty bullpen help something fierce. Especially since it has been revealed that Tallet has kidney disease. It is uncertain how that will affect his most recent rehab.
59 Fernando Salas: A
He's not going to make anyone forget about Mariano Rivera just yet. But Salas has done a remarkable job as a rookie in the high pressure role of being a major league closer. He's 5-2 with a 2.25 ERA and has allowed only 27 hits in 44 innings. He's walked 11 but struck out 44. And he's done nothing lately other than to become more efficient and effective.
62 Lance Lynn: B+
Lynn hasn't had a whole lot of major league action, so it's sort of hard to give him a grade. But he's made a big impact recently as a middle reliever and has put together a 3.80 ERA with 19 hits and four walks allowed in 21 1/3 innings. Meanwhile he's struck out a whopping 23. Lynn may have found his niche and could go a long way toward stabilizing the Birds' shaky bullpen.