ST. LOUIS (BaseballStL) -- It’s mid-June but the Cardinals are in a very dangerous area right now. They can take one look at the standings and find themselves in third place yet, more importantly, five games behind a red-hot Cincinnati Reds team.
Yes, there’s a lot of time left. But no one wants to have to fight back from 10.5 games again just like last year. The odds of that happening are pretty much zero.
Injuries are playing a role in the fact the Redbirds are just a game over .500, but that’s not the only reason things haven’t been good lately.
The offense has gone insanely quiet over the last couple weeks. In 8 of their 9 losses this month (they’re 7-9 so far in June) the bats have averaged barely over a run a game. That’s 10 runs in 8 games. Heck, in a couple of the wins they scored 2 runs or less.
And when the bullpen has been given a lead late in a game, they haven’t held on as much as they need to. The most visible person is the closer, Jason Motte. On the surface his statistics look pretty good. This season he’s got a 3.41 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. Motte’s struck out 31 in 31.2 innings. But when it comes to closing...there’s only one stat that matters, to me anyway. It’s your save percentage. Of the times you are given a save opportunity, how often do you come through? Motte, so far, is 14/18. That’s 77.7%. It’s ideal to be in the 80s...the best of the best are in the 90s. Basically, there’s been too many blown save chances late.
The starting pitching has been solid for the most part...but certain areas are leaking. Jake Westbrook is the not-so-proud owner of a 5.82 ERA this month and a 5.94 ERA in May. After getting off to a very strong start in 2012, his sinker has been left up way too often.
That makes him extremely hittable. Even Adam Wainwright has taken a small step back in June. April was a disaster for Waino (7.32 ERA) but he made significant progress in May (3.00). So far through four starts in June he’s at 4.50, despite a strong showing Sunday. Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn have been terrific while Joe Kelly is filling in admirably for the injured Jaime Garcia. Overall, the starting pitching hasn’t been perfect during this rough stretch, but certainly not the reason things have gone south.
What does this add up to? Well, certain things are going to be needed to be addressed by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. With Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia on the mend and potentially back by August 1, I’m not seeing the starting rotation as an area for improvement. If you regain Carpenter, pair him with Wainwright, Lynn and Lohse who are all throwing well...and get lucky with either Westbrook or Garcia holding down the other spot...they can survive there. This has the potential to be a terrific rotation. They just need to get healthy.
The offense? Please. With Lance Berkman out until August and Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker coming back shortly, the offense and bench will get a boost. Sure, these last few weeks have been tough. But remember how ridiculous this offense was early? Well, despite the recent struggles they’re still in the top 3 in all of Major League Baseball in runs scored, batting average and on-base percentage. The offense is fine. They just need to play better. Over 162 games it’s impossible to be hot for all of them.
The one area I believe GM John Mozeliak will address actively this trade deadline is the bullpen. You should feel confident the offense will score enough to win, you feel confident the rotation will give them a chance late. But how confident are you the bullpen will be able to hold on consistently? That’s the bigger issue.
A left-handed reliever is required. Mark Rzepczynski has struggled mightily (he’s got zero location and not much confidence at the moment) and Sam Freeman isn’t ready just yet to be in key situations with a division title on the line.
And another set-up righty, a la Octavio Dotel in 2011, would certainly be a huge boost. I just can’t see Mozeliak and Mike Matheny trusting the struggling Fernando Salas and unpredictably wild Eduardo Sanchez down the stretch. Kyle McClellan will help once he gets healthy...but more is needed.
You can’t fix everything come July 31st. That’s why the offense and the starting pitching is going to be something you just leave alone and hope everything falls into place.
The bullpen? That’s where all attention needs to be. If you can’t hold onto leads late in games...you won’t be playing in October.