Beltran Goes All Berkman; Cards Win in the Desert

Ladies and gentlemen, I have discovered the secret to the Cardinals' success. 

Actually, I shouldn't say success in general. Rather, I have discovered the secret to the St. Louis Cardinals beating the Arizona Diamondbacks on the road in Arizona. In order to win in Chase Field, the secret for the Cardinals is simple: always have a switch-hitting ex-member of the Killer Bees in the lineup. Do that, and every little thing is gonna be all right. 

Last year it was Lance Berkman going berserk in Arizona, hitting four runs and driving in ten runs in the series as he broke out on the way to a real renaissance of a season. Before the Cards went to Arizona, Berkman's OPS was .576; by the time El Birdos flew out of the desert it was .990. Not a bad series, really. 

This year Berkman is on the disabled list, but it didn't matter. The Cards' newest switch-hitting ex-Killer Bee, one Carlos Ivan Beltran, decided he would pick up the Big Puma's slack. 

Beltran had a huge night last night, hitting two home runs, one a grand slam, en route to a six RBI performance that provided Jake Westbrook with more than enough run support to win. The two homers brought Carlos' season total to 10 in just 123 plate appearances; that's nearly halfway to the 22 he hit in 598 PAs last season. 

It shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise to see Beltran performing so well; after all, he didn't come on a short, below-market deal because he isn't a great player. Rather, lingering health concerns from his injury-plagued 2009 and 2010 seasons depressed his market and brought him here to St. Louis. And the Cards have to be thrilled so far with that he's shown. 

This is the second year in a row that John Mozeliak has pulled one of the great free agent coups of the offseason; Berkman last season was trying to prove he was healthy and still relevant after a nightmarish 2010 that saw him spend half the year in a Yankee uniform and all the season in significant pain. (Not to mention severely reduced effectiveness.) This year Mo dipped back into the ex-Astros waters to pull out Beltran in an attempt to at least partially replace the production lost when Albert Pujols bolted for southern California. So far, it's looking like an absolutely brilliant bet. 

Of course, the real test will be to see how Beltran holds up over the grind of a long season. He nearly reached 600 plate appearances last season, but in the previous two years he had just 612 combined. He's also 35 years old, which may not be old in people years but is certainly getting up there in athlete years. 

Personally, I'm not concerned. Not only does Beltran look damned good in a Cardinal uniform, he actually looks more like the young Carlos Beltran than we've seen in quite some time. His knees seem to be healthy; he's certainly running the bases with an aplomb that has been missing from his game for several years (he has five stolen bases already on the season), and he looks as smooth as he ever has in the outfield. I think he's going to hold up just fine, and we're all going to be looking at each other at the end of the year and wondering how in the world so many other teams decided not to take a chance on this guy. 

Really, at this point, the only concern has to be that the Cardinals have exhausted the supply of switch hitters who also used to play for the Houston Astros in the mid-2000s and have last names that begin with the letter B. Unless they can somehow lure Jeff Bagwell out of retirement while simultaneously talking him into learning to hit from the left side, I think the Cards are pretty much out of luck. 

Which, of course, means that we had all better hope we don't see the Cardinals travelling to Arizona in October for the NLCS. The secret weapon well has pretty much run dry.