Posted on May 2, 2014 at 10:17 AM
(BaseballStL) -- Wednesday’s outburst against very mediocre pitching aside, the St. Louis Cardinals’ offense has been an ugly exhibition of futility.
On any given night, over half the lineup is scraping the Mendoza line. 17 whiffs Tuesday night. Need a real eye opener? Until Wednesday’s game, Matt Adams had 34 hits and just 5 RBIs. Parse the stats anyway you want and it comes up the same.
Craig’s stroke may have returned if the last two games are any indication, and that may be the start of a turnaround which could remove some of the pressure from Johnny Peralta, John Jay, Peter Bourjos and Mark Ellis, none of whom are hitting his lifetime average.
Let’s hope so because as is evident so far, a sputtering offense manifests its malignancy in many ways besides the inability to score runs.
Pitchers, aware that they will get very little support, try to pitch too fine. They try to push hitters off the plate and hit more people, such as the Monday night’s Brewers game in which three opposing hitters were nailed.
The desire to avoid big innings means pitching to keep runners off base or pitching around good hitters. They attack the corners, fall behind in the count and either walk hitters or throw too many fastballs. More pitches means quicker exits and more bullpen work and by August, nobody can comb his hair.
The defense begins to feel that pressure as well because every base runner is a potential rally from which the team cannot recover. Errors mount and frustration grows. Outfield collisions, missed cut-off men, poor relay throws and bobbled ground balls mount.
Base running blunders become more significant because the opportunity to score is so rare. Players feel pressure to “make something happen” and so feeble rallies die on the bases. In fact, the Cardinals have made more egregious base running mistakes so far this season than they did most of last season. The number of runners thrown out at on the bases is shockingly high for what is supposed to be a well-schooled team.
The final result of an inability to safely put games out of reach is that the consequence of every managerial decision is amplified. And, there are a lot more of them.
Manager Mike Matheny was not exposed in any meaningful way during last season’s glorious run. The team struggled in spots as all teams do in the long season, but never stopped scoring runs for significant periods. Decisions whether to bunt, whether to play the infield in or back, whether to go to the bullpen or stick with a starter are all the choices that either enhance a team’s opportunity to win or cost them dearly.
The fewer runs a team scores, the more meaningful virtually every pitch becomes and thus every decision.
Monday night, Matheny sent a struggling Michael Wacha back out in the seventh inning with a 3-0 lead which he quickly lost. Bunting Peter Bourjos with the winning run at second and no outs killed the inning when Matt Holliday was thrown out at third.
When a team is scoring runs, neither of those decisions arise, or are much less is significant.
An improving offense floats all boats and a lot of these problems vanish. But until that time, Matheny might be spending quite a few nights sleeping in his office, if he sleeps at all.