(BaseballStL) — Sometimes good teams inexplicably play down to their competition. It is a phenomenon well known in sports in which a clearly superior team cannot raise its game above that of a largely inferior opponent.
So on Monday night when the Cubs beat the Cardinals like a rented mule, the immediate reaction is that it was just one of those things; the maladroit Cubs somehow defeated the magisterial Redbirds.
But that does not reflect reality. The Cubs are just about as good as the Cardinals in most statistics. Or, put more truthfully, the Cardinals are just about as bad as the league’s worst team in nearly category, except pitching.
The Cardinals entered the night 19-19, the Cubs 12-24.
Over the last three weeks, the Cubs are 7-12.
So are the Cardinals.
The Cardinals rank 25th in runs scored. The Cubs are 27th.
The Cards are 18th in batting average and 19th in on base percentage. The Cubs are 28th and 26th respectively.
The Redbirds are 25th in slugging, the Cubs 28th.
The Cardinals defense, one of the cornerstones of their success last year, has committed 22 errors already this year, 11 of them on the left side. The Cubs, with mostly a near-rookie lineup, has committed 23.
The Cardinals have given up fewer runs and therein lies the only discernible difference between a team projected to contend for a return to the World Series and the team voted most likely to end up with the worst record in the National League.
One team is living up to its advance billing. One team is not.
If it weren’t pitching – at least some of it – the Cardinals and the Cubs might well be engaging in an epic struggle of futility for the distinction of being the worst team in baseball.
And that pitching, once thought to be insurance against long slides, is actually sliding away to oblivion with the rest of the team.
Shelby Miller has 5 wins but has walked 27 in 44 innings, almost five over 9 innings, although he rarely goes more than 5. Setup man Carlos Martinez has an ERA of 4.35 and closer Trevor Rosenthal’s ERA is nearly 5, usually not even good enough to stay in the majors much less close for what is supposed to be a contending team.
As hard as this is to admit, the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals are a really awful team on many levels. There is no one thing that could turn around to save the season. There isn’t one player to blame or one hitter who can shake off the slow start to provide that one missing ingredient.
Optimists will say that perhaps the team hit rock bottom Monday night by being shellacked by a roster of college players, cast-offs and assorted humans washed up on the oft-maligned north shore of baseball life.
But the truth appears to be that the bottom is elusive and while they have plumbed depths they never thought existed, there is still so much further to fall.