It was one of those days.
The Cardinals have had a lot of those lately.
This time, it was against the visiting White Sox. Facing the South Siders for the first time since 2006 on the day of Yadier Molina’s 1,000th career game, the series opener came down to a series of unfortunate events. Safe decision making, poor “clutch” hitting, and bullpen “moments.”
It wasn’t all bad — Adam Wainwright opened the game with three straight strikeouts. He had six through the first two innings. He also, however, gave up a two-run triple to Orlando Hudson after a pair of defensive miscues from David Freese and Tyler Greene. Momentum killer No. 1.
Momentum killer No. 2 came later in the third. After a Wainwright lead-off single, Rafael Furcal bounced into a double play. (Where have I seen that before?)
It happened again in the sixth on this play. In fact, this could have been the real turning point in the game. Matt Holliday had scored on an Allen Craig double. Craig, then, likely
should have could have scored on a Freese single that forced Sox starter Jose Quintana out of the game.
But no, another double play followed. Threat over.
The team went just 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position, stranding 7 on the night, despite racking up 11 hits.
It was just that kind of night for the Redbirds. And they hadn’t even gone to the ‘pen yet.
When they did, it didn’t get any prettier. Marc Rzepczynski vs. Adam Dunn didn’t go so well. Neither did Mitchell Boggs vs. A.J. Pierzynski. Before you knew it, a one-run game was a five-run game. And with hitters unable to hit with runners in scoring position, it was too big a hill to climb.
If you’re like me, you’re wondering where the 2011 Rzepczynski disappeared to. The Rzep who made the hottest lineups in baseball look silly with that slider. The one who, along with Octavio Dotel, sured up a struggling bullpen and locked it in cruise control.
If there’s good news here, it’s that he apparently knows what’s going so terribly wrong:
“My mistakes I’m leaving them up and they’re getting hit hard,” Rzepczynski said. “Any time I leaving a breaking ball up, especially when it’s my go-pitch when I need it — or at least it was — I can’t make that mistake.”
Scrabble now has given up five homeruns. Each one has been on his slider that missed. For a pitch that is supposed to be his “out pitch,” that’s not a mistake he can afford to keep making.
But … knowing the problem is half the battle, right?!? That means it’s bound to get better from here, right?!
On the Boggs side of the equation, yes, he gave up a homer to Adam Dunn. A lot of people do. Boggs has been much more solid the last few outings, so while I still hold my breath when he pitches, it’s more in anticipation of the bullpen’s potential to meltdown than Boggs in and of himself.
Of course, it would be nice to have a pair of relievers that didn’t make us all reach for the Tums …
The fact of the matter is, this team in its current form resembles that of its July/August 2011 counterpart, not the September/October 2011 version.
The mistakes being made? The poor defense, the un-clutch offense, the inability to take advantage of opportunities, the struggling bullpen, the rally-killing double plays … all things we were frustrated with last summer. The “cup half full” thing is, we all know how that turned around.
No, we can’t realistically expect that kind of magic every season. But we can see the talent behind the flaws. We can recognize that very rarely does a team have a perfect season in which they live up to every ounce of their potential every given night and never have a rough slump. We can also realize, however, that the Cardinals are three games behind the first place Reds. Not 10, just 3. And while there’s potential for that to get a lot worse, there’s also plenty of reason to believe that, post All-Star break, the healthier, hopefully refreshed Cardinals can get back to their consistent, winning ways.
Manager Mike Matheny thinks it’s as much a morale issue than anything else.
“I think we need to go about it expecting to win and not expecting for things to happen and the wheels to fall off.”
Several players — Wainwright, Craig, even Rzepczynski — did say, though, that they genuinely believe the good that this team displayed earlier in the season is still there, and that this slump will turn around.
Again, knowing the problem is half the battle, right?
Here’s hoping game two with the ChiSox is a different kind of day — the kind that makes announcers say things like, “Have a day, kid!”
I like those kinds of days.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.