Cards’ Comeback Can’t Save Wild Westbrook

Talk about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome.

The Cardinal pitching staff started the year at a blistering pace, going 14-8 with a 2.66 ERA —

Jake Westbrook pitched just five innings on Tuesday, giving up five runs to the Braves in a 5-4 Cardinals loss.

second best in all of baseball — in April. The month of May has told a wildly different story. Perhaps no individual story has been more dramatic than that of Jake Westbrook.

Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves simply highlighted the problems — namely, Jake Westbrook is a sinker-baller without much sink to be had right now.

That’s trouble.

Individually in May, he earned three wins in four starts, posting a 1.30 ERA after surrendering just four earned runs in 27.2 innings of work. He did not give up a single home run, but instead notched 44 ground outs (as opposed to just 14 strikeouts).

That was the Jake Westbrook we saw coming out of spring training: fit, confident, and most of all, consistent.

That’s the funny thing about consistency — sometimes it just disappears. What seems natural and easy one day is suddenly labored and frustrating the next. Of course, that contradicts the very definition of consistency, no? But it is what it is.

For Westbrook, it’s a stellar April turning into a nightmarish May.

In a month where the Cardinals have gone 13-15 overall, Westbrook has been charged with three of the losses, with another three starts where he left early and didn’t factor into the outcome. But in six starts, he pitched just 33.1 innings, giving up 21 earned runs, with five homers..

Tuesday, the Braves scored five runs (four earned … but the unearned run was after a throwing error by Westbrook) on five hits (including a solo and a three-run homer) through five innings to end Westbrook’s day early.

That meant a struggling bullpen had to find a way to get through four innings and give the offense a chance to chip away at the Atlanta lead.

Good news is, the bullpen pulled it off!

Victor Marte, who has fast become a dominant figure out of the St. Louis ‘pen, did his thing in the sixth and seventh, striking out three and not giving up a single hit. Eduardo Sanchez followed suit, although he did walk one in the eighth. But no harm no foul, right?

Let’s be honest, though. While Jake clearly had a rough day (and a rough month!), he’s not the only one who has been inconsistent. Rafael Furcal, Skip Schumaker, Matt Adams and Tyler Greene all put up big zeros yesterday. The bigger problem, though, is opportunities going unused.

Another 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position cost the Redbirds dearly, as they drop another one-run game.

The hits are coming. Runs are scoring, even. The Cardinals who batted .280 as a team in April, scoring 113 runs on 213 hits, are now batting .283 (tied with the Texas Rangers for the best in baseball) with 150 runs on 280 hits.

But, get those runners into scoring position and things go sour.

Yadier Molina, who is fast becoming everyone’s favorite Cardinal (like he wasn’t already!), did his best super hero impression last night, going 4-for-4 with a solo shot and two RBI singles, as the Cardinals inched back towards the lead. But, as he said after the game,

“I’d rather have my 1-for-5 [Monday] night and the win and not to take the 4-for-4 and the loss.”

The biggest of nights can only feel so good when the comeback falls a run short.

Especially when those pesky Reds keep winning!

So yeah, go ahead. Jump off the Westbrook bandwagon. Jump off whatever bandwagon you’d like. You may have reason to.

But because I’m a “cup-half-full” kind of girl, let me remind you: It’s May.

Things changed dramatically between April and May. They can (and likely will) change at least a couple more times. It’s a long season. We’re dealing with a devastating number of injuries. As great as Mike Matheny has been at times, he’s still the newbie and he’s going to make mistakes.

Jake Westbrook is probably never going to be Chris Carpenter. David Freese isn’t going to be the World Series MVP every game. Tyler Greene isn’t going to be an All-Star.

Some things just are what they are.

Okay, my attempt at a feel-good, It’s-gonna-be-okay moment didn’t exactly work like I planned!

The point is, it’s early. Things happen. I’m not ready to call for Westbrook’s head, or to play the blame game, or say it was simply too good to be true. I’m not about to write off this group because we know what they are capable of. I fully expect to see a lot more of that Cardinals team this next month as some key players get healthy and some kinks get worked out.

But, um, can we stop with the Mr. Hyde business?

Please and thank you!

 

Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.

 

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