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Cardinals mid-season report card

Overall: C+ -- At the halfway point of the 2012 season, the Cardinals are three games over .500 and in third place in the National League Central, 2 1/2 games behind the Pirates and Reds. Their record is certainly a disappointment, which is a major factor in dragging down their grade. But the whole team shouldn't be punished for the failings of one component. Overall, this seems to be a pretty good team -- with a fatally flawed bullpen. And, yes, injuries have been a factor as well.

Offense: A- -- The Birds lead the National League in batting average and on-base percentage. But they've had trouble converting baserunners into runs. Part of that problem could be that guys like Matt Adams and Shane Robinson took a lot of at bats with RBI potential instead of injured players like Lance Berkman and Allen Craig. The Cardinals also hit into too many double plays.

Starting pitching: B+ -- Despite the loss of Chris Carpenter for the season, the Redbirds starting pitching has been pretty solid. Lance Lynn made the All-Star Team as Carpenter's replacement in the rotation, so that's as good as a trade-off as could be expected. St. Louis starters allow an average of 4.25 runs per game, fifth best in the National League. Cardinals starters are 34-26.

Bullpen: F -- Seven different Cardinals relievers so far this season have an ERA over 5.60 as the team has desperately shuffled pitchers up from Class AA Memphis and even Class AA Springfield. Nothing has worked particularly well with guys like Eduardo Sanchez and J.C. Romero, who were expected to be major pieces of the puzzle, completely flaming out. The Cardinals are tied for second in blown saves with 13. Their 57 percent save rate ranks 25th in the major leagues.

Coaching: B- -- New manager Mike Matheny has done a solid job and his players respect him. But he's committed some head scratching moves both with the bullpen (especially the game where he brought it wild reliever Eduardo Sanchez and ordered him to intentionally walk the first batter he faced to load the bases) and with his deployment of offensive players. But that's to be expected from a guy who is learning on the job. Managing a major league ball team isn't easy. So growing pains can be expected.

Bench: B+ -- The Cardinals bench players in many ways have helped the team stay in contention while starters have recovered from injuries. Heck, several guys who've been on the St. Louis bench this year were replacements for other injured bench players.

Individual reports:

3) Carlos Beltran: A+ -- Signed to help offset the loss of Albert Pujols' bat, Beltran has significantly out-produced Pujols this season and, if he keeps playing like he has during the first half of the season, will be a legitimate NL Most Valuable Player award candidate. Hitting .304 with 20 homers and 63 RBI, Beltran is on a pace to threaten his career high of 41 homers in 2006. Meanwhile he's still maintaining a .394 on base percentage which would rank the second best of his career. Not bad for a 35 year old.

4) Yadier Molina: A+ -- It raised more than a few eyebrows when the Cardinals gave their Gold -- and Platinum -- Glove catcher a $75 million contract. After all, he wasn't thought of as a major offensive force. And isn't that what drives major league dollars? Well, Molina is hitting a career high .309. He's one homer shy of his single season personal best at 13 and he's more than two-thirds of the way to his career high in RBIs with 45 only half way through the season. Oh, yeah... and he's STILL the best catcher in baseball.

7) Matt Holliday: A: -- Why is everyone so critical of Holliday? All the guy does is hit. He's batting .313 with 14 homers and 53 RBI. He leads the Cardinals with 19 doubles and his .395 on base percentage is a tick higher than Beltran's. Over the last month, he's hitting .427. Yeah, his batting average with runners in scoring position is .259. But he's not exactly been getting a lot of pitches to hit when it matters. He's been walked 14 times with runners on second and/or third. When pitchers can't work around him because there's a runner on first, he hits a much better .286.

12) Lance Berkman: incomplete -- Berkman played only 13 games before being sidelined with a knee injury that was thought to be season -- if not career -- threatening. But things went well under the knife and he could be back in the lineup as soon as a week and a half from now.

13) Matt Carpenter: A -- If someone told me before the season that Matt Carpenter would have 13 less at bats than Jon Jay, I would be pretty nervous. But Carpenter has proved he belongs at the big league level with a .289 batting average and 21 RBI during his playing time. Watching his glove work in spring training a couple of years ago made me cringe. But he seems to have made great improvement with the leather.

15) Rafeal Furcal: A- -- Despite an awfuls slump that drug his batting average down 40 points, Furcal has been a valuable lead-off man with a .275 batting average and a .341 on base percentage. He's been pretty good with the glove at shortstop and, most important of all, he has been able to remain healthy. His play has been recognized by fans who voted him to start the All-Star Game.

19) Jon Jay: A -- The Cardinals are a different team without the dynamic Jay on the field. He's a spark plug in the second spot of the batting order and plays fantastic defense in centerfield. He's batting a remarkable .326 with a .387 on-base percentage.

21) Allen Craig: A -- Craig has made the loss of Berkman bearable with a .314 batting average, 13 homers and 43 batted in.

23) David Freese: B+ -- He's putting together a solid season with a .286 average, 13 homers and 48 RBIs. And, knock on wood, he's managed to stay healthy for the first time in his career. I wonder if Freese will always be held to the impossible standard he set for himself in the 2011 post season. If he has a weakness, it's his glove. He's steady -- but not spectacular -- at third.

26) Kyle Lohse: A- -- He's 8-2 with a 2.80 ERA. Lohse might have threatened Lance Lynn for an All-Star berth if the bullpen hadn't let him down and held down his win total. He's truck out more than three times as many as he's walked.

27) Tyler Greene: C- -- Sometimes he looks brilliant. He's got great range at second base and shortstop and he's got good poer for a middle infielder. But he has a habit of screwing up the easy play. Greene had every opportunity to win the second base job but he couldn't do it, losing out to a guy who has struggled to hit .230.

29) Chris Carpenter: Absent -- Earlier I said if someone told me how much Matt Carpenter would play this year that I would be nervous. That's nothing compared to the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach caused by the fact that ace Chris Carpenter hasn't thrown a pitch by the fourth of July. And now we know Carp won't throw a single pitch for the rest of the year. It's devastating to lose such a great player.

30) Jason Motte: C -- Motte has saved 17 games. But it seems that opposing hitters have timed his fastball and I wonder if the newly-minted Cardinals closer will be able to survive if he doesn't master a second pitch. He hasn't done it this far into his career. I'm starting to wonder if it's possible it will ever happen. Motte's 30 and he's not going to be able to bring the heat forever.

31) Lance Lynn: A -- He's struggled the last three times out causing concern. But Lynn has done everything that could have possibly been asked of him, winning 10 games at the half way point with a 3.62 ERA. He leads the Redbirds with 98 strikeouts.

33) Daniel Descalso: C- -- He has become the starting second baseman by default. Descalso plays pretty good defense, although it seems to be a step down from the fantastic glove work he showed last year. Perhaps the pressure of trying to hang on to the starting job weighs on him. Descalso's .227 batting average leaves a lot to be desired. He's struck out 46 times in 176 at bats. Yikes.

34) Marc Rzepczynski: D -- Last year it seemed like Scrabble was a future starter in waiting. But now it seems like he's struggling to make it as a reliever pitching in favorable lefty vs. lefty match-ups. He has a horrible 5.86 ERA and opposing hitters are batting .304 against him. They're hitting a ridiculous .483 against him over the last month. He's also been vulnerable to the long ball, allowing six of them in 27 innings of work.

35) Jake Westbrook: B- -- He started the season off great. Then he stank. Lately he's been very good again. So it's almost like trying to give one grade to two guys. He's 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA and the long and the short of it is that Westbrook has to justify his contract if the Redbirds are to succeed in the absence of Carpenter. He's given up 107 hits in 99 innings pitched. That ratio has to improve.

41) Mitchell Boggs: B+ -- Boggs has been the best pitcher in a lousy bullpen. He's got a 2.02 ERA with 29 hits allowed in 35 2/3 innings of work. He's walked 27 while walking nine.

43) Shane Robinson: C- -- I don't want to be harsh with Robinson because I don't believe he has major league talent and that he is in over his head. But he doesn't have major league talent and he is in over his head. Robinson is a scrappy sort ala Rex Hudler and Joe McEwing. But he's not a particularly good outfielder, he's not a high average hitter and he has little power. He also hasn't fared very well doing the little things like advancing base runners and throwing to the right base.

48) Tony Cruz: C -- He's a capable back-up receiver. But it's obvious both at the plate and behind it when Yadier Molina isn't in the game. Cruz is batting only .196 as doesn't offer much as a pinch hitter. He's basically a guy who is capable of giving Molina a rest every once in a while. 

50) Adam Wainwright: B -- He's struggled at times in his comeback from elbow ligament replacement surgery. But lately Wainwright has shown glimpses of his former brilliant self, showing that his comeback is progressing as expected. He's surely not proud of his 6-8 record with a 4.68 ERA. But Wainwright is strengthening and, if he doesn't get worn down after a year on the shelf to sap his stamina, he should only continue to get better.

52) Eduardo Sanchez: D- -- There is no Cardinals player who has disappointed more than Sanchez. He looked brilliant in spring training and he has the best action on his pitches of anyone in the St. Louis organization. But he's lost his grip on it and he's going to go from prospect to enigma quickly if he doesn't straighten things out.

55) Skip Schumaker: C -- Skippy has had a hard time staying healthy this year. And when he is on the field he seems like he has lost a step or two. He's still got a respectable .283 batting average with a .353 on base percentage. But he has a hard time finding a place to play in the field.

58) Joe Kelly: B+ -- It's difficult to grade a guy with five major league appearances under his belt. But I give Kelly credit for composure and for battling to give the Cardinals a chance to win every game he has started. You can't ask for more from a kid.

59) Fernando Salas: D -- He's got a 5.60 ERA and his work has been a terrible disappointment from a guy who served as an effective closer for most of the 2011 season. He shown signs of life lately. But Salas' average of more than 1.7 walks and hits per inning has to improve dramatically.

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