‘It hasn’t gone our way’ Mired in a dry spell at the dish, Cardinals aren’t yet panicking over drowsy offense

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright wipes his face in the dugout after coming...
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright wipes his face in the dugout after coming off the field during the ninth inning of a baseball games against the Philadelphia Phillies Friday, July 8, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: Jul. 9, 2022 at 1:47 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Adam Wainwright fielded a sharp ground ball and threw to first base for the final out of his evening before walking off the field to an ovation from the Busch Stadium crowd. It was possible he had just capped off a complete game⁠—and barring some late magic from his team’s dormant offense, a loss.

The Cardinals fell 2-0 to the Phillies on Friday as Philadelphia slugger Alec Bohm was the only hitter to do any damage against Wainwright. Bohm enjoyed the first multi-home run game of his career, tagging Wainwright for a pair of solo shots to pace the Phillies. It was the first time an MLB pitcher has thrown a nine-inning complete game while taking the loss since, well, Adam Wainwright.

It last happened to him on April 26, 2021. Against the Phillies. In a game started by Zack Wheeler.

“Yeah, this was a deja vu,” Wainwright said. “I finally got (Rhys) Hoskins out, but Bohm got me. That’s what good lineups do. Good lineups find ways to score runs. And their pitcher, Wheeler, has just done great. He’s just a stud… He pitched great, again, against us.”

Perhaps the Cardinals were onto something when they sought Wheeler in a trade a few years back. St. Louis liked the hard-throwing right-hander but reportedly wasn’t willing to meet the asking price of the Mets, who wanted a young outfielder like Harrison Bader or Tyler O’Neill as part of a package to part with Wheeler.

Alas, here we are, with the Cardinals facing turbulence in their starting rotation on days when humans not named Adam Wainwright or Miles Mikolas are on the mound for them. The other crisis brewing for the Cards is the one that has seen them go six straight games without topping three runs scored. The team was shut out in three of those contests and has won just one game over that stretch.

Though his team is beginning to fade in the standings, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol isn’t pressing the panic button yet.

“I wouldn’t say anything is going wrong,” Marmol said. “You tell me who’s underperforming. Guys are giving their best shot and playing to their capabilities. And if you look at this stretch, we’re playing some pretty damn good teams. A lot of them have been close. Today, two homers from their third baseman decide the game… It hasn’t gone our way.”

It’s true that the Cardinals are missing a number of regulars from their lineup due to injuries, which has meant more playing time for some lesser-known contributors. But the notion that none of the healthy mainstays have fallen short of expectations at the plate lately is dubious.

Of the 11 Cardinals who have registered double-digit plate appearances over the past week, seven of them have batted below .180 during that stretch, all seven with a sub-.600 OPS. Three have batted below .100. As a whole, the catcher position has gone 1-for-26 (.038) over the past seven days. It’s hard to imagine that Marmol doesn’t see a number of names underperforming at present.

Friday, Wheeler didn’t leave many opportunities for damage. The Cardinals failed to register a hit with runners in scoring position, but then again, only had three such at-bats throughout the night.

Over their past six games, the Cardinals have left 55 men on base and have gone just 6-for-38 (.158) with runners in scoring position. Asked for his impression of his team’s pursuit of clutch or timely hits throughout this dry spell, Marmol again objected to the notion that the trends warranted cause for concern.

“I would summarize it this way,” Marmol began. “We’ve seen some pretty good arms. You can call it clutch hits. You can call it whatever you want. At the end of the day, our guys are playing to their capability. They’re taking their best shot. It hasn’t gone our way.”

A baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Through that lens, it’s understandable to see Marmol bristle at a line of questioning that evidently seemed to the skipper to have been doomier and gloomier than necessary considering his team wasn’t technically on a losing skid.

The Cardinals had just earned an enthralling extra-inning victory over a capable Braves team the night before. They still hover above a .500 record. Marmol, clearly, believes in the track record that had been established prior to the previous six days of porous plate production. But after another hapless effort offensively in Friday’s loss, it grows more difficult to ignore the direction in which this thing has been trending.

Over the last six games, the Cardinals have gone from one game behind the Brewers for first place in the division to 3.5 games out. Inconsistencies from the starting pitching staff have certainly been a contributing factor. But you can’t win if you don’t score.

On the day of the announcement that slotted him in as the National League’s starting first baseman in the upcoming All-Star Game, Paul Goldschmidt acknowledged the team’s collective troubles offensively. For St. Louis’ most consistent hitter on the season, shaking off these production pitfalls boils down to the Cardinals regaining their groove of regularly driving the ball with authority⁠—a trend he believes is bound to infiltrate the St. Louis clubhouse before long.

“When we’re good, we’re getting extra-base hits. We’re driving the ball,” Goldschmidt said. “There’s still going to be strikeouts. There’s going to be all that other stuff. But a two-out double or a solo homer, some of those things⁠—to me, over the last week⁠—that’s what we’re missing. I think that’s more of a results thing. I don’t think we need to change. I don’t think the at-bats are bad. But it’s just obvious that we haven’t been really driving the ball consistently. When we do, we’ll start scoring. And I think that’s what we’ve done when we’ve been good this year.

“We’ve been good offensively for most of the year. This last week, obviously not.”