The Cardinals have lost three straight to the Mets — last night it was 6-1. This marks the second weekend in a row they are on the verge of being swept in a four-game series.
The numbers are ugly. The Cards were nine games over .500 on May 9 at 20-11 — now they’re 27-27. The 4 1/2 game lead atop the NL Central on May 2 has become a 3 1/2 game deficit and now third place, behind the Reds and Pirates. They’ve only won seven games since May 10 — more than three weeks — and that includes the sweep of the Padres. They’ve scored one run in June. What was spotty performances by the starting pitching and inconsistent defense has continued, with bullpen troubles and now cold bats added in as well. Their play seems to rotate between careless and lifeless.
Someone needs to start a fire under this team, bring some spark and energy.
Attention, Chris Carpenter — you are needed immediately.
While Lance Lynn is doing a good job replacing Carpenter in the rotation, there’s no one on the team picking up the leadership role he plays. Sure, he’s around when the team is home in St. Louis. But when the team is on the road, he’s not with them (instead he’s watching his son play Little League and, ironically, being surprised at the intensity of the coaches) as he works to strengthen his shoulder and hopefully get back to pitching again soon.
His own intensity could help the team.
During last night’s game, ESPN’s Dan Shulman briefly touched on Lance Berkman’s leadership qualities and how they’re missed with LB on the DL. But the inning quickly ended and so did the conversation. It’s true LB’s presence is missed as well. No doubt he will be in the dugout at Minute Maid Park when the Cardinals start their series against the Astros tomorrow night, and that will be good.
But LB, great as he is, doesn’t seem like the “light a fire” guy — and that’s what the team needs right now. There were several comments on Twitter last night that Mike Matheny needs to scream and yell at the team to ignite them. But that certainly doesn’t seem Matheny’s style, so would the team really respond?
And not that CC needs to scream and yell just for the sake of throwing a fit. But we know from the past that his words are backed up by actions. Look no further than last August and the team meeting on Aug. 25, the now famous day the Cards ultimate march toward the World Series championship began. To refresh your memory, here’s what was Alden Gonzalez wrote about the meeting and Carp on Oct. 18, the day the Series began:
Carpenter, among others, felt things needed to be said in order for this team to turn it around — not necessarily because he felt they had a chance to zoom into the playoffs, but because they owed it to their fans and their own self-respect to pick it up.
“It was basically just that we needed to play a little better,” said Carpenter, whose start will come at 7:05 p.m. CT on FOX. “Everybody understood where we were at and what was going on, what the expectation level was of our ballclub, and we weren’t meeting it.”
Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman spoke on behalf of the position players. Carpenter, one of the Cardinals’ most vocal players, addressed the pitchers.
And when Carpenter talks, you listen.
“With the experience that he’s gained and the success that he’s had, he deserves from all of us to listen,” pitcher Jake Westbrook said. “We definitely did that.”
Hmmm, needing to play a little better? Expectation level not being met? Sound a little familiar?
We know too of Carpenter’s role in the title run, on the field. Game 162, NLDS Game 5, World Series Games 1 and 7 …
And in case we need a reminder of the spark and intensity Carpenter brings, we can look back at one particular moment from last Sept. 13. The Cardinals were in Pittsburgh playing the Pirates and had a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the seventh. CC was pitching, and he gave up a two-out, two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen to tie the game. As he walked off the field, he — not surprisingly — wasn’t happy. Given that it was Pittsburgh in September when they’d fallen below .500, the crowd was small. Which made CC’s profane outburst all the more audible — as you can see and hear for yourself here thanks to our pal Dustin McClure’s video from the broadcast. (Yes, Carp is swearing, so be warned.)
The Cardinals won that game in the ninth inning, their sixth win in seven games. Was it because Chris Carpenter said some bad words as he walked off the field? Of course not. But he played with passion, as did the rest of the team, and that’s something the 2012 Cardinals are sorely missing right now.
Carpenter’s leadership via words and actions brought greatness to the 2011 team. Right now, his daily presence alone could help bring about much-needed improvement.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.