ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- By 9:30 Monday night, the cleanup crew at Busch Stadium could have gotten an early jump on their overnight work. It was only the sixth inning, but most of the fans had left in disgust, having watched the Cardinals, a half game out of the second Wild Card and supposedly sensing the urgency with just seven games left, get taken to the woodshed by the cellar-dwelling Reds.
Cincinnati managed 22 hits, and had 14 runs by the fifth inning. They would finish with 15, a number that would have been higher had Reds runners not shown mercy late in the game.
“I would just love to have a great finish here at home for our fans,” manager Mike Matheny said before the game. “Really play just solid all-out baseball here."
Instead, they played their worst game of the season. The 15 runs and 22 hits allowed were season highs, and the offense managed just six hits and two runs in response. In the field, the woes continued. Many throws from the outfield were off target or well late, runners stole with abandon because they weren’t being held close and balls found landing zones all over the diamond. The Reds were playing live baseball while the Cards looked like they were on tape delay.
“It starts with a starting pitcher that didn’t get the job done,” said starter Jaime Garcia. “I know when the starting pitcher keeps us in the game [he] sets the pace for the whole team. I wasn’t able to do that. I’m very disappointed in myself. I feel ashamed right now.”
Garcia finished just one inning, allowing two homers and two other hits before the hook came. Michael Wacha followed, surrendering a homer to the first hitter he faced and eventually allowing seven runs on nine hits in 2.2 innings.
Luke Weaver was next. The rookie only survived two outs, finishing with a pitching line that included five runs and four hits. The box score was a bloodbath and the there were still four innings to play. Anyone looking to upgrade their cloud in Baseball Heaven had their pick of open seats.
“You never want to be embarrassed and that’s an embarrassing loss,” Matheny said.
The defeat puts them a full game behind the Giants with six left on the schedule. All six are at home, where the Cardinals are now 33-42 and playing some of the most aesthetically bankrupt baseball this town has seen in a decade.
The town let the franchise know their feelings on that Monday, breaking into boos multiple times before offering a sarcastic ovation when the Cardinals finally closed out a seven-run top of the fourth.
“None of us want to be booed. But people put their hard-earned money into showing up here and that’s a freedom they have. We take it very seriously the kind of product we put out there. If it isn’t up to their standards, then it isn’t,” Matheny said.
The announced attendance was 34,942, the first time in 240 straight regular season home games that number hasn’t eclipsed 40,000. Given the product on display, it might be a while before a new streak starts.
As for the playoff race, dwindling games aren’t the only problem the Cardinals have. Monday night was essentially a preview of Saturday’s pitching situation, and things look bleak. The three best candidates (meaning the three pitchers stretched out enough to handle a start) got shelled. Garcia has such a short leash the Cardinals can’t bet on him for six outs, much less six innings. Luke Weaver appears to have reached his limit this season, having thrown more than in any other point in his career. Michael Wacha is still not at full strength and offers no concrete performance floor.
No one else on staff could realistically offer more than two innings, meaning Saturday’s likely outcome is a committee effort to get through nine innings on the second to last day of the season. The ripple effect of that could put a mountain of pressure on Adam Wainwright Sunday, given the bullpen could be taxed to its limit to ensure a win the night before.
The only saving grace for the Cardinals is their competition; two teams that stumble as often as they do. While the Giants were off the Mets lost again, putting them just 1.5 games ahead of the Cardinals. They finish with a cakewalk of a schedule, but given their dearth of starting pitching, they are far from a sure thing.
The Giants finish with the Rockies and Dodgers, both teams capable of outpacing San Francisco’s anemic offense. The Cardinals fell flat Monday and appear to be in trouble five days from now, but are still just one game out of the playoffs. The Wild Card pursuit is less of a race and more of a bumper car ride, but St. Louis keeps careening onward, hoping to be the last car standing when the bell sounds.