Cardinals use potent offense to stay afloat in Central

Cardinals use potent offense to stay afloat in Central

The three-time defending National League Central champions did not look as such for most of the first half, which for the Cardinals, could probably best be described as ragged. But despite a poor record at home, an underperforming rotation and a disappointing defense, St. Louis nevertheless wrapped up the first half positioned for a second-half push at its sixth straight postseason berth.

The Cardinals finished the first half seven games back of the division-leading Cubs. St. Louis has stayed within striking distance, despite never ascending higher than seven games above .500. It took wins in the team's final two games of the first half to bring the club's record to 46-42.

In many ways, the Cardinals feel fortunate to be where they are, given the absence of much first-half traction. Injuries have plagued them recently, though much of the team's uneven first half can be attributed to its own uneven play. Getting that cleaned up will be key in the second half.

The Cardinals played some of their best baseball on the road, finishing with a 27-16 record. They also hold a plus-89 run differential, third best in the NL.

Individually, Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz -- the team's two All-Stars -- had standout first halves. Seung Hwan Oh emerged as a dominant setup man and a capable closer in his rookie season, and Carlos Martinez served as a stabilizer in an often wobbly rotation. Stephen Piscotty followed up a terrific rookie season by beginning to cement himself as the team's right fielder of the future.

Piscotty's grand slam

The Cardinals struggled against American League clubs (5-10) and, even more surprisingly, at home. With a 19-26 record at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals have already lost as many home games as they did all of last season.

Trevor Rosenthal's run as closer ended after continued command troubles. The bullpen skidded toward the break, too, with Seth Maness still groping for his command and Kevin Siegrist out with mononucleosis.

Two of the club's Opening Day starters -- Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk -- ended up back in Triple-A after struggling to find offensive traction. There was underachieving in the rotation, too, with Adam Wainwright enduring a tumultuous April, Mike Leake stung by too many big innings and Michael Wacha going 10 consecutive starts without a win at one point.

The Cardinals won 100 games a year ago largely through run prevention. This year's club has created quite a different identity. Run creation has been the theme this year as St. Louis needed a potent offense to compensate for pitching and defensive deficiencies.

The Cardinals averaged more than five runs a game in the first half and have seven players with at least 10 home runs. After hitting 137 homers in 2015, the Cardinals connected for 115 through their first 88 games of 2016.

Carpenter was on pace to post one of the best seasons ever by a leadoff hitter when an oblique strain landed him on the disabled list last week. Still, Carpenter finished the first half among the league leaders in on-base percentage (.420), slugging percentage (.568) and OPS (.988). He also leads the Cardinals with 53 RBIs.

Carpenter's RBI double

Martinez showed no lingering issues from a right shoulder injury that abruptly ended his 2015 season, and instead he has emerged as the team's most consistent starter. He leads the Cardinals with eight starts of at least seven innings and enters the second half with a 2.85 ERA, 11th best in the NL.

Martinez's 11-strikeout start

An Opening Day injury opened a roster spot for Diaz, and he went on to become the franchise's first rookie All-Star since Albert Pujols (2001). Diaz's sensational season start prompted the Cardinals to move him into the No. 2 spot in the lineup and keep him as the everyday shortstop, even upon Jhonny Peralta's return.

Diaz's three-run home run

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.