Columbia, MO (September 10, 2015) – Once again I find myself writing a blog when I should be studying, but I have to get this off my mind. I’ll do my best to keep it short.
What’s up with the Cardinals? Up until September this team was winning at an incredible pace. Fueled by a historically good starting staff and a never-say-die attitude at the plate, the birds were on pace to post one of the franchise’s highest win totals.
The calendar then flipped over to September, a month the Cards have had success in over the last decade. This year, however, everything has derailed. A third of the way through the month they are 3-6 and have lost four of five.
That’s not something they can do with Pittsburgh right on their tail and Chicago not much farther back.
It certainly hasn’t made for great sleeping for this fan.
What has gone wrong?
In short, the starting staff’s dominance has come to an end and the offense has taken its mediocrity to another level.
Not a good combination.
Some will point to the club’s decision to skip starts for Wacha, Martinez, and Lynn. Did this change in routine throw off the starters? It’s important to remember Martinez suffered minor back tightness and Lynn suffered a minor ankle injury.
The bullpen hasn’t been nearly as sharp either. Broxton & Cishek have been strong for the most part, but Siegrist has had a few troublesome outings and Choate has been a mess.
What about the offense? Simply put, they aren’t getting any production up the middle. After being the team’s MVP in the first half, Peralta has had a miserable second half of the season. Wong hasn’t been much better and now he’s dealing with a calf strain. This injury, although the team claims it is minor, has forced Marp to second and Reynolds to third. [Mark Reynolds is not a guy you want starting every day.] After his ridiculously hot stretch, Brandon Moss has more than cooled off as well. [This as he has taken the vast majority of starts at first] Jay has returned, but hasn’t been productive whatsoever.
What does this all mean? It means the Cardinals can only depend on their first three hitters: Marp, Piscotty, & Heyward. [Thank God for Stephen Piscotty]
This top heavy lineup hasn’t been able to consistently string hits together.
Why? That’s always the toughest question. Some writers claim Matheny didn’t rest his regulars enough this year and it has caught up with him. But there is just no way we can know exactly why.
Is there a bright side?
I think so. First let’s look at health. Jay has returned to full duty. Adams and Grichuk are available to hit. Holliday seems to be nearing a return as well. The bullpen will also get a veteran back as Bellisle is nearing a return. The question is: Will these guys be healthy enough to FULLY contribute down the stretch and will they have enough time to regain their timing? [And will the team still have the lead in the division when/if this happens?]
I also think it is important to note the contributions from young players. Greg Garcia has had success pinch hitting this season. Tommy Pham isn’t an easy out. Piscotty may be the second half MVP. If the veterans aren’t healthy enough to properly contribute in the coming weeks Matheny may have to turn towards these kids at the most important time of the year.
There’s also this man with a pretty good 12-6 curve who seems to be lurking in the shadows. You just never know.
So now what?
It’s obvious. The Cardinals need to find a way to [at least] avoid a sweep in the upcoming Chicago and Pittsburgh series. The rest of the series are against poor teams and need to be won.
Every year it seems like the best regular season team fails in the playoffs. It’s just so difficult for a team to continue its dominance in October. The teams who are hot at the right time (the 2006 & 2011 Cardinals) are the ones who succeed.
Maybe, in a messed up way only possible in baseball, this losing streak is a good thing.
Maybe this is the adversity they needed to learn one final lesson.
Maybe they will break out of this slump in time to roar into the playoffs.
Maybe this is the spark that lights the fire towards their twelfth championship.
Or maybe it is the Cardinals’ turn to ruin a promising season.
Only time will tell.