(Baseball StL) -- Whenever a once-formidable team struggles, the panic button is never far away.
But when a team’s struggles manifest in the way the St. Louis Cardinals’ have, it moves even closer.
And it may not be panicking. It may be reality.
In baseball terminology, the Redbirds are scuffling, the preferred nomenclature when a team does not perform up to expectations, because it sounds a little less dire than “struggling” or “sucking.”
But no matter how you try to change the condition by changing the language, the reality is that whether it is a rough patch in a long season or the very beginnings of an epic collapse, this team has problems.
What is the problem with the Cardinals? Share your thoughts.
To review, the Cards have now lost four in a row on the road, where they had been playing excellent baseball. In those four losses, they scored a total of five runs. Their once magical ability to drive in runs with RISP has vanished. In Monday’s 9-2 loss to Francisco Liriano and the Pirates, the Cardinals looked lost at the plate, swinging at pitches that bounced and failing to capitalize on major scoring opportunities.
Sometimes a streak of playing poor baseball is not as bad as it seems. Sometimes, it is worse than it looks.
This is one of those times.
With the exception of a lone win on June 29 at Oakland, the Cardinals have not beaten a team with a winning record since June 9. They are 1-9 in that stretch and were swept by the Texas Rangers and the Atlanta Braves, two teams they could face in post season.
The reason their record improved in the last two months is due entirely to the fact that they played a whole bunch of really bad teams; the Mets, Cubs, Astros, Marlins, Padres, Phillies and Angels. And while the rest of the league has enjoyed the hospitality of these wretched clubs, the Cards lost the series to the Angels and one to the Marlins and split one with the Astros. Since June 9, the Cards are 21-19 against the league but 20-10 against sub-.500 teams.
They have not played well against play-off contenders all year, and that includes the Pittsburgh Pirates, against whom they are 2-4 including Monday night’s whooping in the opening of what Pittsburgh fans, media and some team officials are calling the biggest series in the history of PNC Park.
Granted, a team that hasn’t had a winning record in 20 years hasn’t enjoyed many games of consequence. But good teams rise to the occasion. Last night, only one did.
The Pirates beat them like a rented mule and continued Jake Westbrook’s frustration at PNC, dropping him to 0-6 in that venue, a far too familiar road performance for him.
Westbrook on the road has an ERA approaching 5.00 and teams are hitting about .320 against him. More troubling is that away from Busch, he is walking nearly one man every other inning for a WHIP of 1.75. For a guy who doesn’t fan a lot of guys, that is disaster.
More troubling is the Cards’ inability to score runs against quality pitching. Subtract the 11-run outburst against Philadelphia and the Cards have averaged 2 runs a game over the last 9 contests. And they missed Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee or that would have been worse.
While pitching has kept them close in most games, falling behind early and with no real home run threat puts the Cardinals in severe jeopardy.
And for all the fans who are convinced the Cardinals should re-sign Carlos Beltran, here’s something to consider: since the All-Star break, he is hitting .167 with 3 hits, 5 RBIs and 7 Ks. If you were around last year, this sounds sadly familiar.
What all this adds up to is that the Cardinals were never the best team in baseball but are not (hopefully) as bad as they have looked the past week. While GM John Mozeliak has downplayed the probability of a deadline deal, he might want to reconsider.
This team needs some help.