After the way the St. Louis Cardinals have lost their last four games, it’s a legitimate question to ask if the Cardinals are breaking down during this breakneck 2020 schedule.
It was tall order for the St. Louis Cardinals when they resumed play on August 15th. They would have to play 52 games in the 44 days of the regular season, including, including 11 doubleheaders.
The Cardinals were also entering this streak without some of their key players in Yadier Molina, Paul DeJong, Carlos Martinez, Lane Thomas, and Ryan Helsley, who were all suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Players who added depth to the active roster, such as Kodi Whitney, Junior Fernandez, Austin Dean, Rangel Ravelo, Edmundo Sosa, were also unavailable due to COVID-19. To add to this, Miles Mikolas and John Brebbia are out for the season with injuries.
In other words, Cardinal manager Mike Shildt was going to have to restart the season with one hand tied behind his back, and hope to hold on until those key players were cleared to return.
With that being said, it seems to me the Cardinals are beginning to break down during this breakneck run to the end of the season.
It started just fine, then…
The team coming out of the gate responded well, winning nine of 15 games and ended up sitting in second place in the NL Central with an 11-9 record. Many names Shildt was forced to call upon weren’t recognizable, but it seemed to be working. Additionally, key players started gradually coming back on the roster such as Molina, DeJong, and Gomber.
By the time Pittsburgh came to St. Louis this past week, the Cardinals were hoping to soon have available Martinez, Thomas, Helsley, and Fernandez. The recently depleted roster was beginning to get some of its strength back.
Now, as I finish writing this on Sunday morning, the Cardinals sit at 11-13 on the season after losing their last four in a row. In a normal 162 game season, it’s usually not time to panic or get discouraged after a four-game losing streak. It happens to the best teams.
But keep in mind, this isn’t a normal 162 game season.
The doubleheader loss to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, the 14-2 blowout loss Friday night, and Saturday’s 2-1 extra-inning loss to the Cleveland Indians should cause concern. It’s not losing the games which causes concern, it just the way they have played during these games.
Is the poor defense evidence of a breakdown?
The Cardinals recently have struggled in all aspects of the game, fielding, pitching, baserunning, and hitting. But it’s the defense that comes as a surprise.
The poor fielding started during the Royals series. where the Cardinals committed five errors during the three-game series and continued on Thursday, where they committed three errors in the first game of the doubleheader vs the Pirates. The errors have continued to pile up against the Indians.
This breakdown in defense has been surprising since it has come from names such as Brad Miller, Molina, Tommy Edman, and even Kolten Wong. It also comes from a team that was considered the best fielding team in baseball in 2019. The 2019 version of the Cardinals had the best fielding percentage (.989) and the lowest number of errors (66) in baseball.
The breakdown of the defense could indicate a team that is beginning to wear down during this breakneck schedule. After all, good defense is really about concentration. If a player is fatigued, his concentration suffers, and then so will his defense.
The baserunning adds evidence to a breakdown.
It’s just one game, but the Cardinals’ baserunning blunders in Saturday’s game could be further evidence of fatigue caused by the schedule. Critical baserunning errors by Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong contributed to the 2-1 extra-inning defeat.
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Anne Rogers covers the details well if you didn’t see the game. But it’s what manager Mike Shildt said after the game when he indicated the team could be mentally fatigued. “I don’t think we’re going to make any excuses,” Shildt said. “But I think that’s pretty safe to assume it’s in the realm of possibility. But again, we don’t make excuses for anything.”
To be honest, hitting has been a problem all year. The rotation and the bullpen have been up and down, but the Cardinals are continuing to make adjustments. However, the recent defensive miscues and base running blunders could be a sign of mental fatigue.
Anne Rogers puts it best in her game summary when she says, “it was rational to expect St. Louis to hit a wall during this dense stretch, especially after a 17-day layoff from baseball activity during the COVID-19 outbreak.”
To conclude, the schedule won’t let up in September and there isn’t really much time left. So the question to ask, Is this a just a bump in the road in 2020, or is it the final breakdown?