ATLANTA — Mike Shildt opened his post-game comments Thursday by admitting he feels like a bit of a broken record lately. After all, how do you explain the inexplicable?
He knows the Cardinals have a good lineup. In looking up and down the list at the names that fill it out, many of us outsiders believe it to be true, too. We’ve seen evidence of it, even if sparingly, within this 10-day stretch in which the Cardinals have gone 2-7. In the club’s two wins in those nine games, St. Louis scored a whopping 31 runs.
But the lack of consistency by the bats has been startling: across the seven losses, the Cardinals have scored just 11 total runs, six of which came Sunday in a slugfest loss to Pittsburgh. That means in the other six Cardinals losses in the last 10 days, they’ve score just five runs combined. Thursday was among those losses, a 10-2 beat down by the Braves in the rubber game of a series that captured the essence of the Cardinals struggles during the season’s second month.
“May’s been weird for us,” Thursday's losing pitcher Adam Wainwright said. He allowed five runs in four innings to the organization that drafted him in the 1st round back in 2000. “April was great. You know, we were number one on everybody’s power ranking, in April. Leading the division by a couple games. And in May, we have not pitched the way we can pitch and we haven’t hit the ball the way we can hit, and when we did hit, it seems kinda like it’s all in one big game. I don’t know whether you tip your hat to pitchers or—guy’s are just hitting the ball hard a lot, just right to people, a lot of times. Baseball's a funny game. It’s a weird, weird game. Month to month, you could see two totally different teams out there with the same guys. Hopefully we’ll get this going, turned around here quickly, because we just haven’t played good baseball in May.”
Wainwright’s right: I’ve always heard showers were supposed to come in April, but the Cardinals have been getting absolutely drenched this May. St. Louis has followed up a superb 18-7 April with a 4-11 record thus far in May—a complete night and day difference.
“It’s been weird. I don’t really know if I have an answer,” Paul Goldschmidt said. “The games where we haven’t scored, we’re one or two pitches away, one big hit here or there. Those ones in Pittsburgh were 2-1 games, so one hit could have won those games. We might be looking at this stretch a little differently.
“There was a time when I feel like we got, probably that first month, that big hit came almost every game. And now it hasn’t. But I think it will probably even itself out, just need to keep having good at-bats and swing at the right pitches.”
It’s easy for the team to say it, but the sentiment does appear to hold up when you take the temperature of the clubhouse each day: despite the losing lately, the mood doesn’t necessarily reflect dire straits. In some ways, that makes a lot of sense—because the team has seen overwhelming success already this season, the players know they have it in them. They know what it looks like to thrive, from as recently as a couple weeks ago. And when you know the talent is there, when you’ve seen it in action, there’s less of an instinct to fall prey to premature panic.
But by the same token, frustration at the inability to replicate the kind of success of which you know you’re capable—not being able to make sense of that has to take a mental toll, eventually. Shildt seemed almost beside himself after Thursday’s loss, as though he was trying to come up with all the answers simultaneously to a problem for which nobody can seem to get a very good grasp.
“The reality is right now, no one’s gonna feel sorry for us. We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves,” Shildt asserted in his office after the game. “We’re moving forward, that’s as simple as I can make it. We’re gonna move forward from here on. We’re not gonna get stuck in this—whatever this might be. We’re always looking for ways to do different, but this is a group that I stand behind and love and trust completely.
"We’re gonna put it behind us, you know. We’re not going to dwell on it anymore, we’re going to move forward, because really there’s nothing to dwell on. The effort’s there. The preparation’s there. The execution could be there a little bit more consistently, but we’re not giving a whole lot away. We’re not giving up bags. We’re not making many defensive miscues at all. We’re playing clean baseball and we’ll move forward and turn the page.”
The Cardinals may do a bit more than simply trying to will a turnaround into existence. Thursday's loss was marked not only by a punchless offense and rocky starting pitching, but an ineffective bullpen, as well.
Luke Gregerson, Tyler Webb and Dominic Leone all struggled in their relief appearances, rendering each of their spots on the active roster rather tenuous. With Carlos Martinez expected to rejoin the Cardinals this weekend, and other young arms potentially available to give the big-league club a boost in the coming days, a mini-renaissance to the relief corps could be in order for St. Louis.
A game of bullpen musical chairs alone won't fix the Cardinals current funk, but it couldn't hurt.
Nor could a timely hit every now and again.
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