So, who are these guys? Are they the Cardinals who were within one close call of the 1985 world championship, or the 1986 also-rans who became the first team ever to go from first to last in runs scored and batting? "We went from one of the damnedest teams I ever saw," says manager Whitey Herzog, "to the damnedest team I ever saw."
It all began in spring training of '86 when Danny Cox jumped off a seawall. By the time the season was over, Willie McGee had injured a knee and lost 97 batting average points and 37 stolen bases from his '85 MVP totals, Vince Coleman had plummeted 35 points to .232, Tommy Herr had dropped 49 RBIs, and Jack Clark wasn't even around, having folded in June because of a bad hand.
In 1987, though, the Cardinals may be the sleepers of the division, or as Gary Carter puts it, "the team the Mets still fear the most." Despite all the injuries, the Cards won 41 of their final 71 games, and, reminds Carter, "they have the good pitching and defense." John Tudor is healthy, and Cox was 9-6 with a 2.20 ERA in the second half. Veteran Bob Forsch and sophomore Greg Mathews give the Cards a rotation second only to the Mets.
McGee is expected to be back in the lineup by April 15. Herr lost 13 pounds, Ozzie Smith gained 16 pounds of bulk and Clark is back in the middle of the batting order. On the downside, the speedy Coleman isn't learning how to hit quickly enough to suit Herzog. Says Whitey, "If he can't stop swinging at everything, I'll make him a pinch runner." The Cards must have Coleman on base and Clark driving him in to return the White Rat to the race.
It's not easy to hit with one eye on the tarp: Busch Stadium BA fell from .305 to .269.
Thru Sept. 13, his slugging average (.3526) was lower than his '85 baiting average (.3529).
Average against righthanders plummeted from .313 in '85 to .212.
Didn't drive in a run in 14 consecutive games (May 9-27), his longest RBI drought since '79.
A. VAN SLYKE
104 stolen bases in 130 career attempts, an 80% success rate.
Virtually identical career averages vs. righties (.255) and lefties (.256).
Only one passed ball in 827.1 innings caught, lowest rate in the majors.
Toughest to fan in NL last year with one strikeout every 22.6 plate appearances.
29-7 on artificial turf over past two years, 5-8 on grass fields.
Record of 9-6 with 2.20 ERA after the All-Star break.
Leads all pitchers with 13 consecutive seasons of service with a single team.
Batting support: 3.45 runs per start, 6th lowest in the NL.
Held top 15 hitters in league to a com bined .111 average (6 for 54).