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Problems are there, but Cards finding solutions

St. Louis uses clutch hitting, starting pitching in current win streak

MILWAUKEE -- Much has been made of the "problems" facing the St. Louis Cardinals early in 2013.

There are 28 other franchises that would happily take these problems if only they could have the Cardinals' 19-11 record after 30 games.

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In any case, it is distinctly possible that the problems the Cardinals have had are in the process of being fixed, repaired, solved.

The Cardinals' 7-6 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday was their fifth straight win. It left them with the National League's best record, a record currently bettered only in the Majors by the Boston Red Sox.

Yes, the bullpen performance has often been uncertain. Yes, there has been underachievement by some of the mainstays in the St. Louis lineup. These have been problems, serious problems.

But they have all been overcome by what has been the best starting pitching in the big leagues by a landslide margin. And now, the offense is picking up. And the bullpen has been bolstered by the arrival of two young, extremely talented pitchers.

Saturday at Miller Park the Cardinals flipped the early season script. They hit their way out of difficulty. And they had clutch relief pitching help from a rookie in his second Major League game.

The Cards came from behind twice. Center fielder Jon Jay had a huge day, with a three-run home run and a game-winning hit in the ninth. First baseman Allen Craig homered. Daniel Descalso, in at second on a double switch, hit a two-run homer in the seventh. Manager Mike Matheny was 2-for-2 on productive double switches, with Shane Robinson, inserted in left, singling and scoring the winning run. Shortstop Pete Kozma saved at least two runs with a great play in the hole in the first inning.

Rookie pitcher Seth Maness was placed in a very difficult situation, a tie game in the bottom of the eighth with one out and two runners on. Presto, Maness delivers exactly what the Redbirds need, the double-play grounder that ends the inning. Maness had pitched the eighth the previous day, and retired three straight on groundouts.

"I feel privileged that they want me to give me the ball in those situations," Maness said Saturday.

As a bonus, he was the winning pitcher in his second big league game.

"It's awesome," Mannes said. "You can't really draw it up much better than that."

Ordinarily, you would have thought the winning pitcher would have been Cardinals starter and ace Adam Wainwright. Coming in, he had a career 1.93 ERA against Milwaukee, the best mark by any active pitcher who had thrown 50 or more innings against the Brewers.

Wainwright had the rare off day, giving up five runs in 5 1/3 innings, leaving more pitches over the plate than he normally would. Wainwright and the other four St. Louis starters had been carrying this team early, but the offense got him off the hook in this one. Wainwright successfully found the humor in this.

"It wouldn't have been any fun for the rest of the team if I'd gone out and dominated and thrown a shutout," Wainwright said with a smile. "Maness got to get his first win. Jon Jay and Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso got to be heroes. So I thought it was pretty unselfish of me."

There was no shortage of heroes for the Redbirds on Saturday. The persistence, individually and collectively, was impressive.

"I think that kind of resilience that we saw really kind of defined [this] club last year," Matheny said. "I think we're starting to see some of those tendencies. "

From the other side of the argument, the Brewers had been on a 12-4 stretch before this series started. They had just scored 26 runs in three games against Pittsburgh. But they are 0-3 against their Central Division rivals in this series.

"They're outplaying us," manager Ron Roenicke said. "There's no doubt. Every person on their team, when they put him in there, they do a good job."

The arrival of Maness and Carlos Martinez has given the bullpen a new look and greater depth. Martinez made his debut Friday night, pitching the seventh, giving up nothing more than an infield hit and hitting 97 with his fastball.

"They definitely give us a few more options," Matheny said of his new relievers. "They both came in with just real good dispositions. Carlos came off the field and wanted to start hugging people. You could just tell how excited he really was. A kid coming straight out of Double-A, you can understand why. He's high energy and high emotion, anyway. It's fun to be a part of that, just witness that. And then, witness his stuff, too. Pretty easy electricity he was throwing up there.

"I didn't have any concern at all that [Maness] would be able to come in and make the pitches. That's what he does. He's a pitch-maker. He's a pitcher. What a great job, gets a big double play in the eighth."

The outlook for the Cardinals is better than it was before the arrival of Martinez and Maness. And it is improving further as the St. Louis offense begins to hit its stride.

"Look at our offense. And we're going to keep pitching," Wainwright said. "What a deadly team, if we keep pitching and start whacking the ball around like we know we can."

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

St. Louis Cardinals, Adam Wainwright