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Extraordinary pitching carrying Cardinals

Hurlers outpacing rest of Majors by wide margin, helping ease offensive woes

ST. LOUIS -- The performance of the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching staff has been historically good. We could even make that description "historically great," but there are still 43 games left to play, so let's ease into this discussion.

The Cardinals have a team ERA of 2.58. The ERA for all of Major League Baseball is 3.87.

St. Louis' ERA looks like something out of an entirely different era. And in fact, if it is maintained over the entire season, it would be the lowest team ERA in the Majors since the Baltimore Orioles in 1972 put up a 2.53 ERA.

The 1972 Orioles didn't have four 20-game winners as they did the previous season, but no Baltimore starter in '72 had an ERA higher than 2.95, and future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer led the way with 2.07.

More dramatically, from the standpoint of the game's history, is the way the current Cards pitchers stack up against the work of their predecessors in 1968, which became known as "the Year of the Pitcher."

In that year, Bob Gibson had a microscopic ERA of 1.12 for the Redbirds. The Cardinals led the Majors with a 2.49 ERA that season. The overall Major League ERA in 1968 was 2.98.

The numbers were so extreme, the dominance of the pitchers so complete, that Major League Baseball lowered the mound and reduced the size of the strike zone in order to give the hitters a better chance.

Using that year as a baseline for pitching domination, the Cardinals' 2.49 ERA was 0.49 better than the overall ERA. Now, 47 years later, the Cards' 2.58 ERA is 1.29 better than the overall MLB ERA. This performance is, relative to the rest of the league, even more impressive than what occurred in the Year of the Pitcher.

The Cardinals' pitching has been even more extraordinary, considering the fact the club has been without the ace of the starting rotation, Adam Wainwright, and a pitcher who was regarded as one of the Cards' primary setup men, Jordan Walden.

But a banged-up group of position players has made the pitchers' exemplary performance something like a necessity. The Cardinals have won 10 games this season when scoring one or two runs. That is their most such wins over the first 118 games of a season since 2004, a year in which they won 105 games. They also have won 37 games when allowing one run or fewer. That was their most victories of this sort over the first 118 games since, naturally, 1968.

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But the 2.58 ERA in itself was of no particular interest to Cards manager Mike Matheny. He is as pleased with the pitching staff as anybody, but he believes that focusing on the numbers, instead of the job that has to be done, would constitute a distraction.

"I wouldn't even have known that number," Matheny said Tuesday when the topic of the Cardinals' ERA came up. "It doesn't interest me. It interests me to watch our guys go out and have success and do a good job.

"You keep hear me going toward 'distractions.' That's because I believe that one of our biggest jobs is to try to limit those. Hopefully, at the end of this thing, we can look back on it and say, 'That was really good.'"

Whether we regard St. Louis' team ERA as a measurement of historical importance or as a distraction, the Cards' pitchers will need to continue to be exceptionally good.

The offense is in the doldrums at the moment. Tuesday night, Lance Lynn pitched very well for the Cardinals, but Ryan Vogelsong and four relievers were even better for the Giants, limiting the Cards to two hits in a 2-0 San Francisco victory.

Lynn was not accepting congratulations or condolences.

"A loss is a bad outing, plain and simple," he said.

You were left to consider how much better that attitude is than the more comfortable "I did my job. I gave us a chance to win." St. Louis' pitching staff, one way or another, has both high standards and remarkable achievement.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for
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