When the St. Louis Cardinals started the season with an 11-5 record and a substantial lead in the NL Central, everything looked sunny in Baseball Heaven. Then the dreaded injury bug visited and slowly but surely Cardinals players have checked in to the disabled list.
On top of that, outfielder Carlos Beltran has been slowed by a leg injury that kept him out of four games this week and first baseman Lance Berkman has yet to see regular playing time because of nagging injuries.
The injury issue was the biggest concern for the Cardinals heading into the season. This is an old club that has several veterans with substantial injury histories.
The injuries have played a large part in the Cardinals recent 2-6 slide that began last weekend with a sweep by the Atlanta Braves. The Cardinals had just a 2.5 games lead in the division over the Cincinnati Reds, who could easily be leading the division if they put together a winning streak. Thankfully for the Cardinals, the Reds have only gone 3-5 heading into play Saturday’s game against the New York Yankees.
Granted, the Cardinals’ pitching has also been less than stellar of late. The team has the third-worst ERA in May at 4.79, and the relievers have given up runs during critical points in games recently. For example, Berkman hit a game-tying blast in the ninth inning Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers to tie the game at five. Then Fernando Salas came in and promptly lost the game with a bases-loaded walk.
Although it has been a depressing week to be a Cardinals fan, there are still reasons to remain positive. The team still leads the NL Central by 2.5 games heading into play Saturday with a 22-17 record.
Plus, all of the injured players are scheduled to be back at some point in the next month. It’s the long-term injuries that could seriously hurt this team’s chances at the postseason. McClellan, Jay and Craig are important parts to the team, and it would be foolish to think the Cardinals could continue to play .700 baseball, especially against good teams such as the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
Anyway, Berkman is likely to start producing more runs soon as he continues to recover from an early season calf injury, and Beltran is making progress, albeit slow, and was able to start Friday’s game against the Dodgers.
Also, none of the pitchers in the starting rotation have missed a start this season. Consistency in the rotation is typically a huge factor in determining a team’s overall success.
The Cardinals won’t get much of a break in the upcoming schedule. The San Diego Padres come to town to start the week, but then the Cardinals play the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves. We already know what the Braves are capable of, and this time the Cardinals will have to visit Atlanta for three days.
Still, this is a part of the season that could boost the team’s confidence if it can play .500 or better against some of the best teams in the National League.
Life isn’t as rosy as it was a couple of weeks ago, but the Cardinals will have to suffer a few more injuries before the panic meter should rise substantially. Hopefully that’s a situation we don’t have to discuss anytime soon.