The Cardinals played a kind of game Wednesday that they simply cannot afford at this late stage of the season. In a 6-0 loss to the Reds at Busch Stadium, they looked utterly lifeless.
Jack Flaherty couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. Ryan Sherriff came in and poured kerosene on the fire, while the offense proceeded to lie down and accept its fate without so much as a whimper.
These kinds of games happen throughout a season. It doesn’t matter who you are, bad stretches of baseball are inevitable across 162 games. The Dodgers—previously on track for a historic amount of wins—just recently endured an eleven game losing streak. Every team has peaks and valleys.
The problem for the Cardinals and their playoffs hopes: they’ve already used up their allotment of lackluster efforts this season. With the Cubs and Brewers convincingly handling their respective business Wednesday, the Cardinals lost a critical game to both teams in the standings. Winning every game is unrealistic, but to roll over against the lowly Reds is another matter entirely.
“That hurts; everyday is important,” Jose Martinez said. “Those kinds of games like this, you just try to forget about it, come back tomorrow and try to win.”
Martinez acknowledged those tough games are a part of baseball, but the Cardinals' hopes of contending mean their margin for error is thin. Wednesday, they tripped and stumbled all over the margin.
After a couple squandered opportunities early, St. Louis earned only two base runners from innings four through nine—and one of those was erased on a double play. The other didn’t advance beyond first base. Credit to the opposition is fine, but the Cardinals’ response to a little adversity was a complete inability to muster any semblance of a rally for six whole innings—that’s downright pitiful considering the stakes.
“It wasn’t necessarily the situational hitting where we had guys all over third base and we’re punching out or rolling into double plays,” Mike Matheny said. “We needed somebody to come up with something big to get the momentum going forward. They’ve made it look easy lately, but it’s hard coming through in those situations. The kid made good pitches when he needed to.”
Gripe about a missed chance at a double play—one that Flaherty admitted he should have executed—all you want. Those kinds of ‘plays not made’ have haunted the Cardinals all season. Question Matheny’s decision to go with lefty Ryan Sherriff to face Eugenio Suarez with the bases loaded (his grand slam sucked the life out of the Cardinals) to your heart’s content. Suarez’s splits suggest a right-hander might have been a better option for the assignment—that’s fair. But those things didn’t lose the game for the Cardinals in a vacuum.
Giving away at-bats to the Reds—against whom the Cardinals are 6-9 this season—isn’t a recipe to a division crown, especially when the math is already against you. You can’t win if you don’t score, and the Cardinals didn’t even pretend scoring was allowed Wednesday night.
“It’s a game of inches and something goes a little bit different early in that game or something falls for us, it’s that close to being the difference in that game,” Matheny said. “Or we get that play at second base, in my mind we win it. There’s nothing to bounce back from except to realize that we’ve got to get back after it tomorrow.”
Matheny’s optimism is admirable, but if the Cardinals don’t eliminate the ‘roll over, play dead’ strategy from the playbook, there won’t be enough tomorrows left to save their season.