Well, that was a bad week for the St. Louis Cardinals

The hits, or lack of hits, kept coming last week as the St. Louis Cardinals continued a rough stretch that included becoming the victim of the New York Mets first no-hitter in franchise history.

Aside from being no-hit by Mets pitcher Johan Santana Friday night, the Cardinals also sent Skip Schumaker back to the disabled list to join an all-star caliber cast that includes Lance Berkman, Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay on the offensive side, and Chris Carpenter and Kyle McClellan representing the pitching staff.

On the bright side, perhaps the only bright side of the week that saw the Cardinals go 2-6 in their last eight games, Allen Craig rejoined the team Friday. Although he obviously didn’t get a hit in his first game back, the Cardinals sorely need his presence in the lineup.

It’s not surprising that the Cardinals have fallen back to the back amid all of the injuries. Sure, every team has injuries throughout the long season, but no team is going to play first-place caliber baseball with six important players hurt.

However, the Cardinals are still capable of playing competitive baseball, and better baseball than they have of late.

The bullpen has been simply atrocious for much of the last three weeks. The Cardinals had the fourth-worst ERA in May at 4.72, and the bullpen’s ERA was even higher. The disturbing part of the bullpen’s performance is injuries cannot be used as an excuse. Aside from McClellan, the bullpen pitchers have remained healthy, they’ve just pitched terribly.

Now it’s to the point where guys such as Sam Freeman, Maikel Cleto and Brandon Dickson are trying to get important outs for the big league club, when in reality they should still be playing for the AAA Memphis Redbirds.

Even with the injuries to position players, the Cardinals put up four runs or more in every game last week before running into a buzz saw this weekend against the Mets. A team that consistently scores four runs or more should win a lot of ballgames, but the pitching staff has found numerous ways to give up more than four runs.

The struggles of middle relief pitchers have been particularly back-breaking. The Cardinals have shown all season they can fight back during a game even if they fall behind early.

For example, the Atlanta Braves scored three runs in the first inning and two more runs in the third inning Wednesday to take a 5-0 lead. The Cardinals fought back and tied the game at five in the six, but Marc Rzepczynski immediately gave up three runs to take away any momentum the Cardinals had built.

So, what’s the fix? Good question. The offense will be fine. A lineup that includes Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and David Freese will produce enough runs to remain competitive. However, as we said before the season started, the pitching staff is going to have to be strong for the Cardinals to compete for the division crown.

That happened at the beginning of the season. The Cardinals jumped out to an early lead almost every night, and the pitchers held the opponents in check the rest of the night. The game seemed easy back in April.

That certainly changed in May. Relief pitchers such as Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas and Mitchell Boggs will have to regain their 2011 and early 2012 form if the Cardinals are going to keep up with the Cincinnati Reds throughout the summer. The Memphis Redbirds pitching staff isn’t equipped to compete in the major leagues, and it is showing right now.

Hopefully the Cardinals beat up on the Houston Astros this coming week, but after that series the team faces a stretch against AL Central powerhouses such as the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers.

Hang on tight, folks, the rough ride of the past week could continue for a while.

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