May began in Washington DC, with the Cards finishing up a series against the Nationals. They began the month facing Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. St Louis split the two games, and headed off to Chicago with the best record in the National League (20-11) and tied with Tampa Bay for the best record in baseball. And feeling pretty good about themselves.
That was 13 games ago. Things have changed a bit.
Last night’s 10-2 beating at the hands of the Atlanta Braves (box score) marked St Louis’ tenth loss since they left the nation’s capital. They have lost, now, four straight series – the last three of them after winning the first game of the series.
One of the aspects of this recent struggle that maybe hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves is the schedule itself. Two of the lost series came against first place teams, and they lost another to a second place team. The softest opponent (by record) that the Cardinals have encountered since the Nationals was division foe Pittsburgh. The Pirates are a fourth place team, but still 21-20 on the season.
One of the consequences of playing in what is perhaps baseball’s deepest division (they are the only division at the moment with four winning teams), is an unrelenting schedule. As they open a series tonight against a struggling Texas team (the Rangers are 19-22) the Cards have played winning teams in 32 of their first 44 games. They have been – and will continue to be – thoroughly tested, as their schedule offers very few soft touches.
Games against winning teams is one of my litmus tests for a team. In losing 10 of 13 against the Cubs, Phillies, Pirates and Braves, St Louis doesn’t look – at the moment – like they are ready for higher level competition. However, they were 12-7 in March/April against winning teams (including Milwaukee and the Dodgers).
As with everything else about this very strange team, it’s a little hard to tell right now what is real and what’s a mirage.
After the Rangers, St Louis will have a couple games against another currently losing team in Kansas City (the Royals are 15-29).
After that, they better be ready for most of these same teams again, as they have three games each against Atlanta, Philadelphia and the Cubs. They would do well to flip whatever switch as quickly as possible, because this season will not wait for them.
Probably the team’s most consistent hitter all year, shortstop Paul DeJong seems to be slowing down for the first time this season. He is still drawing walks – he drew another last night – but is hitting just .154 over his last 4 games (2-for-13) with no extra-base hits or runs batted in. He hasn’t hit a home run in 9 games, and has fallen to .245 for the month.
Another of the Cardinals having great seasons who has seen his numbers drop lately, Dexter Fowler went hitless in 3 at bats last night. He is now without a hit in 3 of his last 4 games and his season averaged has settled at .288.
Dexter is hitting just .226 this month.
Embattled reliever Luke Gregerson came into the game in the sixth inning. Already trailing 5-1, Luke inherited a runner at first, with one out already recorded. Gregerson did, in fact, take care of the last two outs of that inning, but not before allowing four singles and 3 more runs.
Following an injury compromised 2018, Luke missed the first 32 games this season with a right shoulder impingement. He pitched a few minor league inning in a rehab setting, but doesn’t look ready at the moment to face real hitters. It hasn’t helped that Luke was activated just in time to face the Cubs and all the teams that have followed.
One of the runs he surrendered belonged to Tyler Webb. He was charged with the other two, and has now allowed 5 in 5.2 major league innings. The 27 batters he’s faced are hitting .423 against him.
Gregerson – who might still turn into a productive reliever – is in a tight place. With Carlos Martinez set to be activated soon, Luke is one of those in jeopardy of losing his roster space. He would truly profit from an extended minor league stay where he could establish some rhythm. But the mechanics of that would be complicated.
Dominic Leone is another reliever whose position is precarious – all the more so after he allowed 2 more runs last night. After an excellent start (Leone allowed just 2 runs over his first 11 innings), Dominic has become a bit unhinged. He has now allowed runs in 5 of his last 9 games – a total of 17 runs in 10.1 innings. The damages include 20 hits (including 4 home runs) and 6 walks. His ERA over that span is an alarming 14.81 with a .400 batting average against and a .760 slugging percentage allowed.
Inactive for 5 days, closer Jordan Hicks made just his third appearance of the month, as he came on to record the last out. Between losses and blowout wins, the Cardinals are still looking for their first ninth-inning save opportunity this month.
At this rate, monitoring Hicks’ innings won’t be nearly as difficult as keeping him sharp.