For all the fuss made about the Cardinals needing a starting pitcher in order to keep up with the Pirates, a bigger issue has quickly evolved: they have got to figure out how to score runs. Five losses, three runs.
Not even Wacha’s spectacular return to the rotation can save a Cardinals team that seems to forget how to handle the bats. Losing 1-0 to the Reds is not about the Cardinals’ pitching.
Baseball is a tricky thing. It becomes even trickier when you’re in as tight a race for a division title as the Cardinals find themselves.
It’s a performance-driven world, and yet sometimes, even the performance isn’t enough if the results don’t match up. Individuals are held to staggering standards because they must be — successful individual performance is the only way to create successful team results.
The pressure, the length of the season, the challenge to be better than the guys in the other dugout … sometimes, it leads to slumps. Maybe it’s mechanical. Maybe it’s a guy trying too hard. Maybe it’s just the sort of battle baseball is made of. The trouble is, the Cardinals seem to be in a synchronized slumping pattern.
When one guy hits, they all hit. When one guy doesn’t, they all don’t.
They say hitting is contagious. It would appear slumping is, too.
In the last seven days, only Matt Carpenter (who had the only two hits for the Redbirds last night) is hitting over the .300 mark. In the last seven days, the Cardinals have zero home runs, four doubles and no triples
Jon Jay, who was blazing hot in the last homestand, is 2-for-16 in the last week. Molina isn’t any better at 2-for-17 in the same stretch.
David Freese is down. Even Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran are down this week.
Now, over the course of a 162-game season, these things have a way of evening themselves out. The trouble is, we don’t have 162 games left. And, the race for the NL Central title isn’t getting any easier.
There is good news: with the first few rounds of September call-ups, there appears to be plenty of pitching to go around. Michael Wacha was giving the start last night and proved why there is so much buzz around his potential.
Six innings, three hits, two walks, three strikeouts, no runs. The combination of a well-placed fastball and his wicked changeup kept the Reds’ bats silent, too. At least through six innings. Say what you will about Mike Matheny pulling Wacha after just 80 pitches, but there’s plenty of reason to support the move. Wacha hadn’t started a game since early August. The Cardinals bullpen has been one constant over the summer. Pull him while things are good and let the bullpen do the rest? Doesn’t sound quite so crazy from that angle. Of course, the fact that the would-be winning run scored off of Seth Maness in the 7th makes everyone question the move … including, I’d bet, Matheny. The logic, though, behind the move is solid. The execution, not so solid.
Still, this is a Major League lineup that holds top offensive numbers. They just come in clumps. This week, no clumps of offense.
The battle for the Central may come down to the next five games. Of course, we’ve been saying that about this two-week stretch since the beginning of July. Really, it may come down to the Reds playing the Pirates six more times, while the Cardinals try to take advantage of a plethora of sub-.500 teams.
But, the opponent matters not if the lineup — touted as one of the best in baseball — can’t figure out how to score runs in back-to-back weeks.
No one, as of yet, is running away with this thing. But, to stay in the battle, the Cards need to resurrect some of that early-season magic … ASAP. They can start tonight by teeing off on Bronson Arroyo while Shelby Miller get back to Rookie of the Year form. That would be a good start.
(Or, Shelby can just go out there wearing a Joe Kelly jersey and play the stopper role for him…)
Game time is 6:10 p.m. CT.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on twitter @tarawellman.