Three and six.
Is it the end of the world? No. But it’s been far from pretty. Consider that the Cardinals hold a record of just 3-3 when holding the lead with 26 outs in the books. That’s right, a .500 record when leading with one out to go. Go ahead and let that sink in for a moment.
There are plenty of reasons for fans to panic in the early going of this 2011 campaign. Albert Pujols is batting an historically low .143 through 9 games. Closer Ryan Franklin has already blown more saves this season (3) than he did all of last season (2). Seemingly no one can get a big hit, save for David Freese in Sunday’s offensive “explosion” when the Cardinals finally broke the 3-run hurdle and plated 6 in the series finale in San Francisco. And oh by the way, the Cardinals have not dropped the team’s first 3 series of a season this century. In fact, whether fans realize it or not, it’s likely the team’s recent stretch of starting well out of the gate that has them panicking the most.
Over the past 3 seasons, the Cardinals have an April record of 49-26. The only seasons they’ve posted a sub .500 record in April since the turn of the century were 2002 (12-14) and 2007 (10-14). Other than that, they’ve been wildly successful in baseball’s opening month. Now does it really mean anything; who knows? The Cardinals have missed the playoffs 3 of the 9 seasons they posted a winning record in April, and made the playoffs 1 of the 2 seasons they had a sub .500 record in April. Just last year, the Redbirds held a 5 game lead on Cincinnati at the beginning of May, and you might recall that didn’t end well. Most of us know all too well by now: it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
The good news is… the Cardinals have a great chance to turn things around during the remaining part of April. The team’s upcoming series feature the likes of Arizona, Los Angeles (Dodgers), Washington, and Houston… with a key home series against Cincinnati mixed in. The Cardinals haven’t hit well, but the pitching has been right there. If the bats can kick it up a notch, even scratching out an extra run or two per game, it could make all the difference.
Speaking of hitting, I’m growing more and more concerned about the potential Mark McGwire effect as hitting coach. Last season, Albert Pujols, Skip Schumaker, and Brendan Ryan were among a few other Cardinal players that posted career low batting averages. And this season, the only hitter that has really come out of the gates strong has been Colby Rasmus, who makes no secret that his hitting coach is his father. Just some food for thought…perhaps another topic for another day as the season moves forward. Here’s hoping the bats get going and the Cardinals boost their record north of .500 by the end of the month.