Is 'better than bad' enough? Cards need wins against quality tea -

Is 'better than bad' enough? Cards need wins against quality teams

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ST. LOUIS ( -- For a listing team, nothing can be more restorative than playing the Philadelphia Phillies. For a team in need of hope, losing to them can hurt twice as much.

The Cards took all three games from the Phillies at home, a heartening response to General Manager John Mozeliak’s press conference; one in which he called for accountability for poor performance and fired a shot across the bow by rejiggering the coaching staff.

The victories instilled optimism, even if they came against the NL’s worst club.

What followed were series losses to the NL Central-leading Brewers and foundering Baltimore Orioles, outcomes which sapped most of the revitalizing energy the winning streak provided.

But the baseball gods giveth, and just as the Cardinals were entering another ugly slide, Philadelphia showed up on the schedule again.

This time, though, the Cardinals won just two of three and had to expend a great deal of effort and get a great deal of luck to snatch those two wins.

The opener went 11 innings, as the offense was unable to solve what- to this point in the season- had been a very solvable Jeremy Hellickson. They flailed through three relievers before finally hitting paydirt, running away with the contest with seven runs in the 11th frame for an 8-1 win.

The next night took 10 innings, but saw St. Louis come back from a five-run deficit to win in extras.

Michael Wacha’s ugly start made things bad, and poor defense made things worse. The heroics of Tommy Pham gave the Cards life in the top of the ninth and helped preserve it in the bottom half, but the winning run crossed thanks to a balk and an error.

Thursday, the cavalry never arrived. Carlos Martinez gave up three runs, Kevin Siegrist another two. Two of the three innings in which the Phillies scored, the Cardinals made an error. Paul DeJong, responsible for one of the misplays, provided the only run in the form of an eighth-inning homer.

The outcome was one which had been lurking for two days. The Phillies had blown leads, run into outs and given away games. Thursday they didn’t, and the Cardinals were unable to do anything to win of their own accord.

In a season in which the division is uncharacteristically volatile, series against teams as bad as Philadelphia are crucial assets. They are opportunities to bank wins; wins the Cards have been unable to come up with against stiffer competition.

On the year, St. Louis’ record when playing sub-.500 teams is 20-13 (the 13th loss coming Thursday). When playing teams .500 or above, they’re just 13-25.

That’s about as clear a numerical representation of “average” as you can get. They’re better than the bad teams (3-0 against the Braves, 3-0 against the Marlins, 5-1 against the Phils) but worse than the good ones (3-6 against the Cubs, 0-3 against the Yankees, 0-2 against the Red Sox, 1-2 against the Nationals).

And that’s the problem the franchises faces as the trade deadline appears on the horizon. The division is ugly, so beating bad teams can keep the standings close, but there’s no indication the team could compete in any meaningful way were they to make it to the postseason.

Moreover, they are more than one piece away from consistency.

Michael Wacha hasn’t made it through five innings in five of his last six starts. Adam Wainwright (5.71 ERA, 1.64 WHIP) failed to clear four innings in two of his last three. Their bullpen has the 11th-worst ERA in the NL at 4.49 and, despite Brett Cecil’s encouraging turnaround, there’s not enough trusted names when it comes to high-leverage situations to spare the best arms from overwork.

The offense has produced the 12th-fewest runs in the league and no batter in the lineup is in the top 20 in average, top 10 in on base percentage or top 25 in slugging in the NL (among qualified hitters).

All this is to say there is too much going poorly to suggest a particular trade could turn this incarnation of the Cardinals into a contender this season. Mozeliak said during his presser he would give it four to six weeks, then reassess from there. We’re two weeks in and the story remains largely unchanged. Perhaps it’s time to start working on the next chapter.

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