It would be easy to write an article about the lack of pop in the St. Louis Cardinal bats after the last two games. During the first two games in New York against those dastardly Mets, Cardinal bats were rendered ineffective by the pitching performances of Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey. Both appeared to be masterful as they systematically dismantled batter after batter leading to the Cardinals being shutout in back to back games for the first time since August of 2010. While this has been frustrating for Cardinal Nation, the performance of the entire pitching staff has been much more worrisome.
The Cardinals have been beset by a staggering number of injuries in this young season. While we have seen big name position players come up lame, the injuries to the pitching staff have been more detrimental. For a team that had a remarkable amount of depth throughout the entire organization the Cardinals are facing many tough decisions about who is ready for “The Show” and who they want to maintain the prescribed development progression through the Minors. The lack of depth in the rotation and the bullpen is becoming more and more relevant each passing day.
The Redbirds have done an amazing job of salvaging what they have been able to do thus far. If there is an easy fix at this point it is that the starters must be more consistent and throw more strikes. This sounds like a snotty statement, it is not meant that way. The starters have lost their way. They are inconsistent and sloppy this past month. During the Dave Duncan era the Cardinals (16 years) were tied for first in the ground ball rate and third in the majors for ERA. They also boasted the fifth lowest walk rate. If you had to use one word to describe Duncan’s staff’s it would be efficiency. His pitchers were prepared and the staff was expected to throw strikes and let the defense do the work. Pitch to contact was a common phrase bandied about during this time.
What is problematic is that this efficiency trended downward during the month of May. As fans and observers we expect things to get better as the season progresses. As starters find their groove and bats begin to shake off the cobwebs of the winter break, things should improve. The Cards fell from 1st in the majors in to 17th in the month of May. This is a direct correlation to the Cards 13-16 record in the month of May. With the number of bats on the DL it is more important than ever for Mike Matheny sand Derek Lilliquist to right the ship and get the surviving starters and rag tag bullpen to pull together.
As hard as it has been for the Cardinal team doctors and training staff recently, the organization has done a great job of putting a team on the field to compete. The bullpen has born the brunt of the scrutiny. It is easy for us, as fans to make excuses for the lack of offense due to the staggering number of injuries. A closer look at the bullpen highlights some glaring deficiencies. In April, the relievers walked an average of 1.75 per nine innings. In May that jumped to an average of 4.57 per nine. The April average of 8.74 base runners per nine innings spiraled to 14.37 in May. An efficient strikeout/walk ratio of 4.91 in April dwindled to 1.57 in May. The number of pitches per inning increased by three in the month of May as well. This is not a stat I want to see. The fewer number of pitches the bullpen has to throw the better. The fact that the bullpen is so compromised requires the club to leave relievers on the mound for longer periods of time, which hardly ever works out well.
The Cardinals need to throw more strikes. They have to get back to being more efficient. Hopefully the injury bug will pack up and head out of town and Jaime Garcia is healthy or the rotation may face yet another setback. The bullpen has been dinged and bloodied. Where do we go from here?
The month of June could be extremely pivotal for Cardinal Nation. Will our big guns get healthy and return? When will Chris Carpenter return? Will GM John Mozeliak make a move to steady the bullpen? What will be done when the starting rotation is reevaluated once they know the status of Carp? Who is available to fit our needs? With only eleven home games on the schedule for the month of June, the Cards are going to have to get healthy and make these decisions while out on the road. As a fan I certainly hope that June is better than May.