Five Takeaways from the First Half

With Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game and all of its festivities in the books, the first half of the regular season is officially complete. The Cardinals will begin the second half of the season with a 46-42 record and in second place in the National League Central, seven games back of the first-place Cubs. Before the season’s second half commences, let’s explore a handful of takeaways from the previous three months of Cardinals baseball, shall we?

Carlos Martinez is setting the tone on the mound.

Carlos Martinez (4)

Source: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America

The 24-year-old Carlos Martinez, who is in the midst of his second season as a full-time member of the Cardinals’ starting rotation, has been the staff’s most consistent starting pitcher. He leads the rotation in several statistical categories, including earned run average, WHIP, and batting average against. Martinez’s 2.85 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and .224 BAA lead the rest of the team’s rotation by rather wide margins.

Martinez has made seventeen starts this season. Of those starts, twelve of them have been considered quality starts. A start is considered a quality start when the pitcher logs at least six innings and allows no more than three earned runs. Perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that Martinez has lasted at least five innings in sixteen of his starts.

A factor that plays into that is his improved efficiency, more specifically his lowered number of pitches per inning. On average, it takes Martinez 15.3 pitches to get through an inning this season; that mark is the eighth lowest in the National League.

Another factor that contributes to Martinez’s consistency and team-leading stats is his ability to limit extra-base hits. In 179.2 innings a year ago, Martinez surrendered a total of 48 extra-base hits. In 107.1 innings on the season thus far, Martinez has allowed seventeen extra-base hits. Stretch this season’s rate out over, say, 90 more innings, and Martinez is on pace to allow 31 extra-base hits this year.

Matt Holliday has some gas left in the tank.

Matt Holliday (5)

Source: Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America

After a nagging quad injury limited him to 277 plate appearances last year, left-fielder Matt Holliday has put together quite the bounce-back season.

Holliday, 36, has played in 83 of the 88 games the Cardinals have played so far and is toward the top of the team leaderboard in nearly all offensive categories. His fifteen home runs and 52 RBIs each rank second on the team, while his .451 slugging percentage stacks up fourth.

Holliday’s contract — a seven-year, $120 million deal he signed back in January of 2010 — is nearing its end, as this season is the final guaranteed year of the deal. The Cardinals have a club option worth $17 million for the 2017 season that — shall he keep producing run — has a strong chance of being exercised.

Brandon Moss is a free agent at the end of the season, and, if the Cardinals decide to let him walk, picking up the option on Holliday to insert him in the lineup as the first baseman could be a possibility.

Matt Carpenter is the team MVP.

Matt Carpenter (9)

Source: Jeff Curry/Getty Images North America

If one thing has been learned by watching the Cardinals play baseball this season, the learned thing would be that leadoff man Matt Carpenter is the most indispensable part of the team’s batting order.

Carpenter, an All-Star this season, was on pace to turn in one of the best offensive seasons from a leadoff hitter in quite some time, entering the All-Star break with fourteen homers, 53 RBIs, and a .988 OPS, more specifically a .420 on-base percentage and a .568 slugging percentage. Beyond that, one of the most impressive features of Carpenter is his ability to draw walks and limit his number of strikeouts.

In 351 plate appearances this season, Carpenter has drawn 58 walks, the highest total on the team by sixteen and fifth highest in the majors. In turn, Carpenter has struck out 61 times. Not many batters in today’s game can say they walk about as much as they strike out.

Carpenter is expected to miss at least three-to-four weeks while nursing a strained right oblique, an injury he sustained while checking his swing.

Aledmys Diaz has exceeded expectations.

Aledmys Diaz (6)

Source: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images North America

If it weren’t for an injury in the first game of the season, it’s hard to tell when shortstop Aledmys Diaz would have joined the Cardinals’ 25-man roster.

Diaz did not break camp with the major-league team, as the Cardinals wanted him to get some more work in in the minors. That didn’t happen, however, as Diaz was called up on April 4 and has been making the most of his unplanned promotion ever since.

In 81 games this season, the rookie Diaz is batting .315, the ninth-best batting average in the National League. Of Diaz’s 93 hits thus far, 37 have went for extra bases. Diaz ranks second on the club with 22 doubles, third with two three-baggers, and fourth with thirteen homers.

Diaz was named an All-Star on July 7 after All-Star teammate Carpenter was placed on the disabled list. Diaz went 0-for-1 with a strikeout in the game, an eventual 4-2 victory for the American League All-Stars.

Seung Hwan Oh is so, so underrated.

Seung Hwan Oh (2)

Source: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America

Through injuries and swapping of bullpen roles, Seung Hwan Oh has been the Cardinals’ most accountable relief pitcher this season.

Oh, who is in his first year of professional baseball in America, has appeared in 45 games for the Cardinals, the third most appearances in the majors. Of Oh’s 45 outings, he’s surrendered an earned run in only five of them and more than one earned run in two of the five.

The Cardinals removed Trevor Rosenthal from the closer’s role on June 25 and decided to use three relievers — Oh, Jonathan Broxton, and Kevin Siegrist — to pitch in save opportunities. With Siegrist on the disabled list and Broxton flashing his ability to eat innings, Oh has been the main man in the ninth inning, successfully converting two opportunities to saves.

In January, the Cardinals signed Oh to a one-year, $5 million deal that features an option for 2017 worth $6 million. With Oh’s success this season, go ahead and consider the 2017 option exercised.

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