Important note to start out with. It’s not giving up on a team to call a recent string of play ugly.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in the midst of a bad stretch of baseball, their worst in 2015. Their September record is 3-8. Their lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central Division of 6.5 games a week ago is now 3 games before the Pirates begin play tonight against Milwaukee. There is only so much kool-aid a man can drink before he recognizes what he is seeing is bad for business.
A slump is one thing, but the timing of this particular slump and the opponents beating the Cardinals make this one hard to digest. After dominating the Central all year, the Cards lost series at home to Chicago and Pittsburgh and one on the road this weekend to Cincinnati. Take away the miraculous come from behind win Wednesday and this streak is very ugly.
It doesn’t help when the Cardinals are losing to average rookie pitchers and bad teams. For example, with the three wins in a row this week against St. Louis, the Reds have moved to 27.5 games behind the first place Birds.
This weekend, the following Reds rookie starting pitchers have shut the Cards down. John Lamb, Michael Lorenzen, and Anthony Desclafani. These kinds of pitchers and teams are the lowly scrubs that the Cards need to dismiss and destroy in order to keep a stranglehold on the division. At the most important time of the season, the Birds are playing their worst baseball.
Was a slump like this to be expected from a team clinging to great pitching and dealing with the worst slate of injuries in the league? Yes, but that doesn’t make the results digestible. While the pitching has come back to earth the past 10 games, the hitting is still what’s plaguing this team.
A look at a few hitters and their performances these past 7 games.
Mark Reynolds 0-11 with 7 strikeouts
Brandon Moss-0-21 with 11 strikeouts
Jon Jay 3-17 with 7 strikeouts
Jhonny Peralta 2-19 with 5 strikeouts
The rest of the lineup won’t get a pass but these are the prime suspects. Jay clearly hasn’t improved since his return from a persisting wrist injury and Moss’ supposed hot streak has burned off. Peralta’s second half slump continues. Reynolds’ bat has slowed down.
Matt Holliday can’t return fast enough. Matt Adams and Randal Grichuk have returned from the disabled list but are not 100%. That needs to change. The lineup needs something. With Holliday’s return, Stephen Piscotty moves to first base and pushes cold bats like Reynolds and Moss to the bench and Grichuk’s return won’t give Mike Matheny the opportunity to use Jon Jay as much.
Other bad news. Tommy Pham’s once hot bat can’t find the starting lineup and Tony Cruz needs at bats to get ready for his undeserved playoff roster appearance. There’s no refuge in sight save for Greg Garcia’s surprising presence at shortstop and second base and Kolten Wong’s return this weekend. To say there is a light at the end of the tunnel is a tough sell, even for a team that has endured all kinds of setbacks and obstacles this season.
17 of the final 20 games this season are against N.L. Central opponents. The Cards finish the road trip against the Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Cubs before coming home to deal with the Reds and Brewers and finish with the Pirates and Atlanta Braves. It’s a weak schedule on paper, but any opponent looms as a threat right now, especially inside the division.
Optimism lies in the belief that the pitching will right the ship and the returning veterans can add some firepower. The Cardinals can use any sort of offense at the moment. After seeing their division lead shrink, the Cards have walked into Cincinnati and scored just 3 runs in 27 innings. That’s pathetic for a team with the best record in baseball. When your rivals aren’t quitting, there’s no room for a slip.
Is the sky falling in St. Louis? No. Is it apparent that something is wrong and there’s a malfunction in the system and a fix is required? Yes. The Cardinals need a boost. Who will give it to them? Stay tuned. September just got interesting. Have the Cards ever made it easy on their fans?