St. Louis Cardinals could finally be on verge of first extended winning stretch

The St. Louis Cardinals put a punctuation mark on a mediocre and disappointing — because of extremely high expectations – first six weeks of the 2014 season with a dreadful 17-5 loss Monday to the Chicago Cubs that might serve as the team’s wakeup call.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks

So long as they marked it with a period or exclamation point rather than a comma.

The Cubs crushed Cardinals starter Tyler Lyons for nine runs in four innings and pounded the Cardinals’ bullpen to the point where manager Mike Matheny called on utility infielder Daniel Descalso to pitch and get the final out of the eighth inning.

That disaster was easily the team’s most embarrassing loss of the season for reasons not least of which it came against the rival Cubs, which are again in their customary spot at the bottom of the National League Central Division standings.

The offense, however, has been the biggest problem. The Cardinals are batting a combined .246 with a National League-worst 23 home runs, and the combination of all of those problems prompted Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak to make some of the more forceful comments of the season, if not in his seven-year tenure as the GM of the Cardinals.

He maintained the message of caution and patience, but an underlying urgency was apparent, as well.

“Having a belief in (playing better) is far different than actually getting it done,” said Mozeliak said Tuesday before the Cardinals beat the Cubs 3-2 in 12 innings. “It’s still early in the season where we can’t hit the panic button, but you’ve got to see the trend line changing.”

Mozeliak has made several roster moves already. He sent rookie second baseman Kolten Wong back to the minors April 28 along with outfielder Shane Robinson, who combined for a .198 batting average in 36 combined games with no home runs and five runs batted in.

At the same time he brought up outfielder Randal Grichuk and infielder Greg Garcia, who won Tuesday’s game with a walk-off hit-by-pitch, and then sent Grichuk back to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds last week for outfielder/first baseman Joey Butler.

None of those changes have had much of an impact. The Cardinals have continued to play .500 baseball and were 20-20 headed into play Wednesday.

But Mozeliak has done about all he can do, and Matheny can only change the lineup so many times.

He has used three different center fielders, right fielder Allen Craig has hit anywhere from second to sixth in the batting order, as has catcher Yadier Molina, in attempts to spark the offense.

“I think our record might be a little better than what the product looks like,” Matheny said Tuesday. “We’re fortunate to be where we are record-wise with how we’ve played. I think the guys would agree with that. Everybody’s going home and racking their brain and spending more time than we ought to trying to figure out what’s missing to make it happen.”

The team blew another late-inning lead Tuesday before they won in extra innings, but the team is still full of veteran hitters who are sure to heat up as the weather does throughout the summer.

Past New York Yankees teams have done so many times in the past 19 years, and that franchise is famous for lineups full of players each with several years in Major League Baseball under their belt.

The severe blowout loss Monday was not fun to watch, but it might be the moment of realization the Cardinals needed to start chasing down the Milwaukee Brewers to contend for another division title.

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