(KMOV.com) -- Someone once said, to paraphrase, that a sportswriter’s job is to hide in the bushes until the war is over and then come out and shoot the wounded.
I have emerged from the bushes and it is my unpleasant task to point out the five biggest disappointments/concerns in the St. Louis Cardinals young season. There is no joy in this, no triumph or glee. It is just my duty. And I acknowledge that a mere 10 percent of the season has slipped past us with ample time for some things to change. Here are the issues going forward:
1). The maddening inconsistency in offense from game to game. The Cardinals are first in the National League in scoring runs but scored just once in two losses against the Cubs and twice in two Pirate losses. A deeper look reveals some genuine disappointments. Kolten Wong, the supremely talented young man who was supposed to settle down and play after signing a long term contract, is worse now than at any time in his career. He is 2-16 with men in scoring position and 2-25 (.080) with men on base. Matt Holliday is 3-25 with men on base. But most of the other Redbirds have relatively high averages with runners on. In fact, the Cards lead teams they’ve played in at-bats, runs, hits, RBIs, extra base hits (22 bombs to just 7 for the opposition) and yet they are just 8-7. The leadoff man leads the team in RBIs (11) while the 3-4 hitters together have just 15. In light of all this information, it might be time to look at a different line-up.
2). Inconsistent pitching. How can a team who has outscored opponents 91-60 be just a game north of even? A peek at pitching will give you a clue. Mike Leake and Adam Wainwright own four of the seven losses and their stats are not reflective of their careers so there is hope they may get better. Wainwright is averaging 12 hits per nine innings and Leake, 11. Michael Wacha is not any better (11 hits per nine innings) but his ERA is just 2.76 thanks to just three walks and some double plays. Here is all you need to know about how miserable those three Cards starters have been; Teams are batting .338 against Wainwright, .323 against Wacha and .296 against Leake. But that pales in comparison to the appalling start of former double play specialist Seth Maness who better find the magic soon or get used to long bus rides again in the minors. Teams are hitting .421 against Maness who over nine innings would surrender nearly 17 hits at this pace.
3). Poor defense. Mike Matheny bristles at any suggestion the Cards don’t have a solid defense. But the truth is, this defense stinks. They are 14th of 15 NL teams in total errors committed (15) and 13th in fielding percentage (.979). Everyone loves Aledmys Diaz’ offense, but he has already made 4 errors and his fielding percentage is just .879. Don’t look for a lot of improvement; he made 17 errors in the minors last year. Wong has three errors, Jedd Gyorko missed the first two ground balls hit to him in a recent game and while Matt Carpenter officially only has two errors, he is the beneficiary of some friendly scoring on plays he could have made.
4). The lack of options going forward or any internal help. I’ve beaten this to death already but just about everyone who could help the Cardinals is already up or injured. Tommy Pham is hurt again, as he has been for most of the past six seasons. Jhonny Peralta won’t be back until the All-Star break and don’t expect him to start banging home runs right away. Mitch Harris and Jordan Walden weren’t Bruce Sutter, but if Maness continues to fail, there aren’t many options at Memphis. If Wong can’t find a way to be consistently good instead of occasionally great, the options are back-up players unsuited to long roles. Sans a trade, what you see is what you are going to get.
5). This doesn’t feel like a typical Cardinals’ team. That statement is purely subjective and not quantifiable. But something is not quite right here. It may involve motivation, cohesiveness, clubhouse chemistry or simmering internal problems. It may be none of those. But a team playing well is nine guys moving like one. They know and trust each other, they play with a constant pressure and they recognize in advance the approach of the defining moment in a ball game. This team seems lost and unsure of itself. Good teams have an aloofness, a certain indefinable detachment that is chilling to the opposition. They are like sharks; they don’t know fear or anxiety or anger or joy. They are just relentless killing machines. That mentality comes from a lack of doubt born of trust, faith and loyalty. At least one of those appears to be missing.