The St. Louis Cardinals have fallen back into a bad habit they were plagued by early in 2011: giving away games.
Admittedly, it is hard to find much fault with a 16-10 start to the season. This is in no way meant to nit-pick or make up something to complain about. But when the Cardinals lose, it is often in sloppy fashion and lacking in fundamentals. That’s a big problem for a team stocked with so many veterans and in-house youngsters that cut their teeth in one of the greatest playoff runs in baseball history last year.
So let’s flash back to 2011—the bad parts, not the postseason parts we all relive over and over again on home video, DVR recordings, and YouTube. Remember the great Ryan Franklin meltdown? Yeah, that happened in 2011. Blown save after blown save led to a poor record early in the season and the eventual release of the veteran reliever and a revolving door at closer that did not stabilize until August. How about Starting Shortstop Ryan Theriot, or Colby Rasmus patrolling center field with all the enthusiasm of someone who just had a lobotomy? Sometimes watching Cardinal Baseball early in 2011 was like watching an old slapstick comedy featuring clowns instead of ballplayers.
Again, it’s far from that bad this season. But some of the same issues have cropped up again. A week and a half ago when the Cards lost their first series of the season by dropping two in a row to the Cubs, it was the bullpen coughing up the lead in the ninth inning both nights. In those two losses plus the loss to Pittsburgh the previous Saturday, the Cards were a combined 0 for 15 with runners in scoring position. They have been running into outs on the base paths. They have committed errors that led to runs, like in Friday’s game in Houston. And they have had trouble knocking guys in once they get on base. If you play your best game but lose to a team that plays just that much better, there is no shame in tipping your cap. Go get ‘em tomorrow. But these losses are borderline ugly, and definitely avoidable.
Fortunately it is still pretty early in the year and the fundamentals ship can be righted. The Cards hit better with RISP in their three losses this week, going 10-43. It isn’t a great number, but at least it isn’t an 0-fer. As regulars get healthy and back up to the speed of the game, defense will hopefully improve. And as we saw last season, any bullpen issue is fixable with the right moves.
It’s just tough to see some of these mental lapses and think, “Wow, this again?” The Cardinals are getting out of their softie, NL Central-dominated early schedule and will be playing some tougher teams real soon. They have the talent and drive to beat anybody in baseball. They just have to stay out of their own way and cut down on the dumb mistakes.