The Team That Blinks

If you have followed this team at all this year, you could have seen this loss coming.  Personally, I figured it would end about this way when Lance Lynn served up the third-inning home run that closed the gap to 2-1.  You, no doubt, were already getting the sense that the Cardinal offense was done for the night, that Lynn would be lucky to make it through six the way the Cubs were grinding him, and that once the bullpen played into the equation – well.

And so it went in a characteristic 3-2 loss in Chicago yesterday afternoon.

Offense Clocks Out Early – Again

After scoring in the first and second, the Cardinals went quietly over the last seven innings of the contest.  No surprise there.

That marks the twentieth time already this season the Cardinals have gone six consecutive innings without scoring a run.  Fifteenth times already this season the Cardinals have endured scoreless streaks of at least 7 innings.  They have had 8 other streaks of at least 9 innings, 6 of which have gone 10 innings, 4 of which have gone at least 11 innings.  They have endured 2 scoreless streaks of at least 14 innings.  On May 25, they scorched the Dodgers Kenta Maeda for three first inning runs.  The second inning of that game began a season high (so far) 19 inning scoreless drought that lasted through the end of that game (a 7-3 loss), swept through the first game of the Colorado series (a 10-0 loss), and lasted through the first two innings of the second Colorado game before they finally eked across the only run they would need in the third inning – on their way to a 3-0 win.

During that memorable 19 inning scoreless drought, the Cards managed 10 singles, 1 double, 2 walks, 1 hit batsman, 10 strikeouts and 6 double play grounders – a slash line of .177/.215/.194.  Yesterday, they didn’t get a hit after the second inning.

This seems like an inordinate amount of futility, but it’s actually more or less in line with what happens to most teams in most year.  You go through stretches where your offense disappears for awhile.

Last year’s team went 6 innings without scoring 57 times; 7 innings without a run 43 times, 8 innings 32 times, 9 innings 24 times and 10 or more 15 times.  Not really out of line with where we are so far this year.

When it comes to long scoring droughts in recent memory, these Cardinals are not yet in the league with the memorable 2012 and 2015 teams.

The 2012 team had two 20-plus inning scoring droughts.  They went 26 consecutive innings without scoring from the ninth inning on May 30 (a 10-7 loss to Atlanta) until the eighth inning on June 3 (too little too late in a 6-1 loss to the Mets).  In between, they were no hit by Johan Santana and shutout by RA Dickey.

As if that wasn’t satisfying enough, they began a 28-inning scoreless streak in the seventh inning of the August 27 game in Pittsburgh (which they would hold on to win), through a 9-0 loss to the immortal James McDonald the next day, through a 5-0 loss to Wandy Rodriguez – then of the Pirates, till finally they broke through with a run in the eighth inning in Washington (in an eventual 8-1 loss).

The run-challenged 2015 team never made it to 28 innings, but they went 27 as one of three 20+ inning streaks.  They also had skids of 23 and 22 innings.

The 2014 team came close with a 26-inning drought after previously being held without a run for 20 consecutive innings.  The 2013 team went 20 innings twice.

The 2016 edition never went more than 16 consecutive innings without scoring.

And Then There Was the Bullpen

I know it seems like way more, but yesterday was only the eighth time the bullpen has surrendered a lead (which is still pretty bad for 52 games).  Three of them have come in the seven games so far against the Cubs.  The bullpen’s overall numbers against Chicago aren’t terrible – a 4.19 ERA and a batting line of .200/.305/.371.  But, as in last night’s game, they almost always manage to do enough.

The Team that Blinks

All of these things are less a measure of talent and more a component of toughness.  St Louis is 2-5 in extra-inning games, 7-11 in one run games, and 9-16 against teams that currently have winning records (a list that doesn’t even include Chicago or San Francisco).  The vanishing offense and the leaky bullpen are only two elements that have contributed to this record.  Toss in a host of random mistakes on the bases and in the field (two critical defensive plays not made yesterday contributed significantly to the loss), and you become the team that blinks.  The team that will find a way to come up just short in the character defining moments of the season.

One third of the way through the season, this is who we are.  We are the team that blinks.

An important thing to remember is that a baseball team is not a static entity.  Who we are today won’t necessarily be the team we are in September – and sometimes teams develop their character and chemistry as the season goes along.  The 2011 team certainly looked as bad or worse than this team through much of the year, so there’s little reason to give up on the rest of the season.

But if you want to know the biggest issue the Cardinals have right now, it is this.  They lack the mental toughness to compete against the better teams in the league.  More times than not, they will be the team to make the critical mistake late in a close game that will spell the difference.  Most of the time, they will blink.

NoteBook

The Cardinals have now lost the first games of their last seven consecutive series.

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