The Dreaded “One Bad Inning” Strikes Again

“One bad inning … one bad inning … one bad inning and a 3-6-1…”

Sorry. I keep having this nightmare about the Cardinals starters losing games because of one bad inning. Last night’s dream included a bases-loaded, inning-ending, Cardinal-rally-killing 3-6-1 double play, to make matters worse.

Oh … wait, that wasn’t just a dream? Well. That’s disappointing. I guess that means we should take a closer look at reality. As the first chapter in the Pujols vs. the Cardinals saga played out, the storyline quickly shifted to the struggles and the questions about how to get them right. It wasn’t all bad … but a 5-1 loss is going to be mostly bad. Let’s play a round of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

good, bad, uglyThe Good

Yes, there was still good to be found in last night’s loss.

If you’re keeping track (be honest, who isn’t?), That One Guy Who Used To Play First Base was hitless on the night, and was part of a classic strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play to end the first inning. That play never gets old!

If you can ignore the score for a minute, you’ll noticed that there was some great pitching throughout the night. Even Lance Lynn, who is in the midst of a vaguely familiar pre-All-Star-break slide himself, pitched five great innings. Outside of the “one bad inning,” he tossed a three-hit, six-strikeout shutout. He was followed by Michael Blazek who has been as impressive as any rookie we’ve seen this year. He mowed through the top of the order in the seventh, and didn’t so much as bat an eye Albert’s way when he stepped to the plate. Fly out, ground out, ground out, and he was done. It was beautiful.

Edward Mujica got some work in (although the fact that he was in the game in a non-save situation almost puts this in the “Bad” category). He struck out two in a one-two-three ninth.

The Bad

Although Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, and David Freese all had multi-hit nights, the offense left much to be desired. Again.

The trouble is not so much one guy slumping as it is the returning problem of not hitting with runners in scoring position. Yes, that thing the Cardinals were the best in baseball at just about a month ago. Where has that killer instinct gone?

Last night, the team was 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. In fact, according to Fox Sports Midwest’s Tim Trokey, the Cardinals are 1-for-16 with RISP since Carlos Beltran’s homer in the first inning on Sunday. The one run they did score last night came on a ground-out by Freese. (Not exactly a rally jump-starter, there.)

That’s not a good way to win ballgames, kids.

The Ugly

Lance Lynn and the One Bad Inning.

Six singles. That’s all. No extra-base hits. No back-to-back jacks. No fireworks. Just a handful of singles and a bad defensive play up the middle. Yes, Lynn got it together after the inning mercifully ended (on strikeouts from Pujols and Josh Hamilton, no less). But, that was too little too late, just like it was in his last start. And Shelby Miller’s last start. And Jake Westbrook’s last start.

One bad inning.

Also noted  by Mr. Trokey, since the series with the Rangers, there is a significant discrepancy between Adam Wainwright and the other starters: Waino is averaging 7.83 innings per start with a 1.15 ERA and a .196 opponent average. The other starters? Just 4.67 innings a start, topped by an 8.82 ERA with opponents hitting .321 against them.

This is fast becoming a problem.

The upside of this team has been that they pick each other up. When the offense was struggling to get things rolling, the rotation stepped up big time. When the rotation has slipped, the bullpen shut it down. When the defense was a problem, the offense out together a few more runs to save the day.

Lately, that’s not the case. Lately, they live and die by one big inning.

Oh, and that 3-6-1.

Down 5-1 in the 8th inning, Jered Weaver finally out of the game, three singles in a row to load the bases, and nobody out. Matt Adams strikes out. David Freese works a 2-2 count … and drills a hot shot down the first base line, only to have Mark Trumbo make a highlight reel play to get the out at second, then watch Erick Aybar fire back to the pitcher covering at first.

Ugh.

Oh, there was one other good thing about yesterday: the Pirates finally lost.

The Cardinals have now lost seven of the last nine. It’s high time to stop this skid. That task is in the hands of Shelby Miller tonight, as the Cards gear up for chapter two against the Angels. Word is, Shelby’s chomping at the bit to get back out on the mound after his last outing. So, here’s hoping he brings his mojo with him. (And, that it’s enough for a Redbird winner!).

First pitch is scheduled for 9:05 CT.

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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