The six-hour, 19-inning marathon that took place on Sunday was just another kink in the chain that is the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals’ season. The Cardinals’ heart of the order, the one so dominant when they are all hitting well, was a combined 2 for 22.Matt Holliday was 0 for 7, Carlos Beltran 2 for 7 and David Freese 0 for 8. A game that saw Jaime Garcia dominate in his return from an arm injury, looking like the Garcia of 2010, was marred by poor offense and some strange decision-making.
St. Louis had chance after chance to end the game with a W. The biggest opportunity came in the 17th. Skip Schumaker‘s single to center, the one that Andrew McCutchen bobbled, turned out to be the deciding moment of the game. Had Schumaker seen McCutchen fumble the ball and advanced to 2nd as Cutch threw to 3rd, Jon Jay”s base hit likely would’ve been the game-winning hit.
But, instead of a wild and entertaining 17-inning win, Cardinal fans find themselves talking about a heartbreaking 19-inning loss. Instead of being tied for the second Wild Card spot, St. Louis remains two games back of Pittsburgh.
Manager Mike Matheny is right when he said earlier this week that the team is struggling to get the one timely hit that can get the Cardinals a victory. The Cardinals’ offense may be the best in the league statistically, but it also one of the streakiest in baseball. Take the 8-2 win over San Francisco on August 6th, for example. Two days later, the Cardinals were embarrassed by the Giants in a 15-0 loss.
The Cards have had a string of rough losses as of late. The blown save by closer Jason Motte on Thursday and struggling offense on Friday led to two very frustrating one-run losses. St. Louis is 13-21 in one-run games in 2012. By comparison, Cincinnati is 20-17, while Pittsburgh is 25-20. With Sunday’s extra inning loss, the Cardinals’ record in such games fell to 3-9. The Pirates are now 4-0 in extras, while the Reds are 4-5.
Starting with tonight’s game against the Astros, the Redbirds will play 16 straight games before their next off day. Ten of them will be on the road – against the division-leading Reds, Pirates, and NL East-leading Nationals respectively. This stretch – particularly the games on the road – will likely determine whether the team will have what it takes to make the playoffs, or roll over and be watching from home once the regular season ends.
In order for the Cards to prove themselves, they must get everything clicking at once. That means that the heart of the order must get out of their respective slumps, the bullpen must right the ship, the offense must be consistent, and Motte needs to return to his old self. In addition, the team must win more one-run ballgames and win more in extras. It might be too much to ask at this point in the season. The Cards were able to find their way late last year, however, and have to do that if they want to play baseball in October.
Last year, St. Louis pulled off an improbable feat. The circumstances in 2012 are not near what they were a season ago, but some of that magic needs to rub off on this team. It’s not necessarily time to panic just yet, but time is running out. The good news is, the Cards have all the tools. All we can do now is just watch and wait.