Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 7/13/12
ST. LOUIS - Adam Wainwright remembers getting killed in the media last year when he proclaimed the Cardinals as the best team in baseball. He also remembers being proven right a few months later. And as the Cardinals prepare to open up the second half of the season Friday night in Cincinnati against the Reds, Wainwrights not afraid to boast a similar feeling again this year. Despite being in third place in the National League Central and having the eighth best record in the National League, Wainwright feels that the Cardinals are the best team in baseball and will soon begin to prove it. I feel like we have the best team, Wainwright told FOXSportsMidwest.com. We just have to go out and execute. Asked if he really thinks the Cardinals are the best team in baseball, Wainwright said, I do, yeah. We proved that last year, right? The Cardinals are 46-40 and 2.5 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National league Central. The Reds are in second place, one game behind the Pirates and 1.5 games ahead of the Cardinals. It was a struggle for the Cardinals in much of the seasons first half. A season-ending injury to ace Chris Carpenter and other key injuries to Lance Berkman, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, Matt Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle McClellan forced them to play shorthanded for a good chunk of the season. But the Cardinals are about as healthy as theyve been in several and only a matter of days away from getting Berkman back in the lineup. He is with the club in Cincinnati and hopes to be activated from the DL as early as Saturday. The Cardinals already possess the best offense in the National League and getting the veteran Berkman back for the stretch run will only make it better. It will also allow them to keep Craig and others fresh by giving them more days off. I think the best is yet to come because we havent played great yet, Wainwright said. Weve had stretches where we played good, but this team is capable of greatness and we havent shown that yet. I think were an October team. I think we have a team that is largely the same as last year when we won the World Series and you look at what Carlos Beltran is bringing and a full season of Rafael Furcal, I just think we have a great squad. We have a good enough team to go out and win the whole thing and we havent played to the best of our abilities yet so I look forward to seeing that. Wainwright, who starts Friday night against the Reds Mat Latos, is arguably the player most important to the Cardinals success in the second half. Hes 7-8 with a 4.56 ERA in his first year back since Tommy John surgery, but has looked more and more like his old self in recent starts. The rest of the starting staff has been impressive in helping to fill the voids left by Carpenter and Garcia. Other than a rocky May in which the starting rotation struggled and the Cardinals did as well because of it, the starting staff has given the Cardinals a chance to win. Lance Lynn made the All-Star team and is 11-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 17 starts. Kyle Lohse has been the Cardinals best starter and should have made the All-Star team, posting a 9-2 record and a 2.79 ERA. Jake Westbrook is 7-7 with a 3.75 ERA and rookie Joe Kelly is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in six starts filling in for Garcia. The area that could use the most help as the trading deadline approaches is the bullpen. The Cardinals have shuffled guys up and down from Triple-A Memphis as they search for the right combination but have yet to find the right group. Veteran J.C. Romero was released, McClellan is done for the year with shoulder surgery and Lynn, who was expected to be a key late-inning reliever, had to move into the starting rotation when Carpenter went down. But despite the bullpen struggles that have helped contribute to the Cardinals being in third place, Berkman thinks the Cardinals have plenty to be excited about in the second half. I believe in this team, Berkman said. I think we have yet to play anywhere close to our full potential, expect the way we played coming out of the gate the first part of the year. That was some of our best ball and playing up to our capabilities so we just have to figure out a way to get back into that mode and then maintain it. The Cardinals went 14-8 in April and were in first place in the division before a rough May dropped them from the top spot. But despite all of the injuries and bullpen struggles, the Cardinals find themselves right in the thick of a three-team race. And that has manager Mike Matheny agreeing that his clubs best baseball remains ahead of them. Ive said that so many times I think people are sick of me hearing it, Matheny said. Theres no question. Theres no question. The playoffs dont begin for another 12 weeks, but the Cardinals dont appear willing to sit around and wait for another magical comeback to happen in September. Theyre ready to begin their push now.
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