History shows best is yet to come for some stars
Pujols, Howard, CC among those with second-half track records
Even though their best position player and best pitcher weren't their usually spectacular selves, the Cardinals reached the All-Star break in a first-place tie with the Brewers.
Here's an even better sign for the Redbirds as they pursue a third National Central title in four seasons: Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter have been among baseball's best second-half performers in recent years.
With Adam Wainwright lost for the year due to Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals needed Carpenter to carry an added burden, but the 36-year-old right-hander has gone 4-7 with a 3.85 ERA in his first 19 starts. From 2006-10, though, Carpenter is tied with Wainwright for second in the Majors in second-half ERA (2.72) and has a .676 winning percentage during that time.
If you place weight on recent trends, then you must believe the best is still to come for Carpenter. And that Pujols may finish with a Pujols-like season after all.
His .280 batting average, 18 home runs and 50 RBIs are solid, if not excellent. But Pujols has done better. Considering he leads the Majors with a second-half OPS of 1.069 and a second-half batting average of .339 over the past five seasons, he should fare better, too.
Just before the All-Star break, the free-agent-to-be was already starting to feel like his old self.
"I feel good," Pujols said Saturday. "I'm seeing the ball good. I feel that I'm putting in good swings, and that's what you want."
A fresh start of any kind is welcome news for many stars who have struggled this year, even if it's only a mental thing. And the fact that their past numbers show they can turn it around in the second half makes their outlook that much more positive.
Consider Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (.257 batting average, 18 homers and 72 RBIs), Braves third baseman Chipper Jones (.259-8-46), Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena (.225-19-49), Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.268-17-57), Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez (.242-8-37) and Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth (.215-10-31).
All have struggled in light of their respective expectations, but all ranked among the top 25 in second-half OPS the past five years and all have been at their best after the All-Star break.
Howard, who leads the Majors with 113 second-half homers and 326 second-half RBIs from 2006-10, is an interesting one.
He is tied for the NL lead in RBIs and tied for sixth in homers, but Howard is a much better second-half player. For his career, the eighth-year slugger is a .262 hitter with a home run every 14.7 at-bats before the All-Star break, and a .295 hitter with a homer every 11.7 at-bats afterward. If Howard can be that kind of hitter for a team that ranks first in the NL in ERA but seventh in runs, the Phillies could be unstoppable.
Especially considering that starters Roy Oswalt (fourth in ERA at 2.80), Roy Halladay (sixth at 2.98), Cole Hamels (seventh at 3.04) and Cliff Lee (21st at 3.70) all rank in the top 25 in second-half ERA over the past five years.
Said manager Charlie Manuel just before the All-Star break: "I like our team a lot."
Another interesting player to watch the rest of the way is lefty CC Sabathia, who leads the Majors with a second-half 2.64 ERA and 490 strikeouts the past five years. Considering the Yankees' rotation questions heading into the season and the division in which they play, this could be another year that sees Sabathia play a big factor down the stretch.
Here are some others who could do the same:
Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum: 22-17 with a 3.11 ERA in the second half from 2006-10.
Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez: 32-23 with a 3.14 ERA in the second half from 2006-10.
Twins catcher Joe Mauer: .333 batting average and 31 homers in the second half from 2006-10.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.