St Louis Cardinals: The big bats need to step up and carry the load

The St Louis Cardinals will be without their ace Jack Flaherty for a while and need their big bats to step up and carry the load.

It is no secret that the St Louis Cardinals have fallen on tough times recently. After surging ahead in the NL Central at the end of April and beginning of May, they have cooled off thanks to injuries and walks catching up to the pitching staff.

As recently as May 29 they were at their high-water mark of eight games above .500, but they now sit at 31-26, still five games over .500. Their 3.5 game lead they had in the NL Central on May 19 has now swung 5.0 games the other way with the Cardinals sitting at 1.5 games back of the Cubs.

To the Cubs’ credit, they have been on an unexplainably good stretch despite a rash of injuries, and that is just how things go in a 162-game season. There will be hot streaks, there will be ebbs and flows. Right now, the Cardinals are in a fine spot in the division, even if things seem bleak.

There will be more troubles coming though, as Jack Flaherty’s oblique injury will keep him out for much longer than just 10 days. An injury to any team’s number one starter is always a big deal and it’s important that the team doesn’t let Flaherty’s injury slide them too far down the standings. The team’s pitching, which came into the year as a huge strength, has been depleted and while the team looks for outside help in the rotation, other players are going to have to step up to keep within striking distance of the NL Central.

One quick and easy place to look at is right down the lines in the infield. If the Cardinals are going to keep winning while Flaherty is out, they are going to need to get more help from Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.

Starting with Arenado, his surge in the first half of the month was a key to the team’s success. On the year, his .832 OPS and 11 homers are right in the territory of what you want from the star third baseman, but he is in the middle of the worst stretch he’s had since getting traded to the Cardinals.

Going back to the day that the Cardinals had their biggest lead in the Central, May 19, that really was the beginning of Arenado’s slump. In 59 at-bats since then, he has just nine hits, slashing .164/.186/.309 with only one homer and six RBI. It has been an awful 14-game stretch, and it’s clear to tell he’s out of sync just watching his at-bats.

By the end of the season, 14 games in late May and early June won’t matter, but the team needs him to get going, plain and simple. For a player with the jittery timing of his swing and busy feet in the box, this can happen and it’s part of why he’s so good. Sometimes it can have its pitfalls though.

Onto Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals have still yet to see a hot Paul Goldschmidt this season. He started the year cold (not unusual for him) and May/June is when he usually heats up. Since May 1, Goldy has a modest .269/.355/.454 slash line with four homers and 15 RBI. An .809 OPS in that span is much better than his .597 OPS in the first month of the season, so the improvement is coming.

At 33, Goldschmidt still has plenty left in the tank. Modest is the perfect way to describe his year so far, because he really hasn’t been bad, he just hasn’t been “Paul Goldschmidt” just yet.

The swing and power shown on this 95 mph fastball from Walker Buehler is a really good sign for Goldy that things are coming around. He looks great in the box, he just isn’t seeing results yet. Of course, this homer looked like the start of a game where the Cards would take the series against the Dodgers, but we all know how that one ended.

The righty is still hitting the ball hard, he’s still taking his walks, and he’s actually striking out at a level closer to 2015-2017 when he was back in Arizona. Goldschmidt will come around, he is coming around, and the team needs him to keep turning more and more of these good swings into tangible results.

Like Arenado though, Goldy has slumped a little in the past 14 games. His .250/.350/.400 slash in that time just isn’t where the Cardinals need him to be, especially when he’s not the only one slumping.

The last two weeks have been a simple equation to figure out: when you add a pitching staff that has underperformed and suffered injuries to the heart of your order not producing, you get a tough stretch of games.

There is no reason to gas up the panic bus or call anyone washed or a bust or any of that. However, it’s times of adversity where the Cardinals need their leaders and their best players to be exactly that. The Cardinals are staring at a month+ of time without their ace and if the pitching is worse, they need their big bats to outslug opponents if they want to stay in the NL Central race.