The inability to pitch deep into games is haunting the Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals’ starting pitchers have struggled to pitch deep into games all season. On Thursday, it cost them in epic fashion.

The inability to pitch beyond the fifth inning has haunted St. Louis Cardinals starting pitchers all season. Entering Thursday, they had failed to pitch at least five innings 39 times, a number that is far too high for a team attempting to make the playoffs.

On Thursday, that number reached 40. It cost the Cardinals in epic fashion, blowing a 7-1 lead before eventually losing 11-7 to the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates, bringing what has been a disappointing season to rock bottom.

The plethora of injuries is the root cause for the rotations inability to pitch deep into games. Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Kwang Hyun-Him and Wade LeBlanc have missed time with various injuries. The only starter who has avoided the injured list, Adam Wainwright, is among the league leaders in innings pitched, but as he is in his age-39 season, how much longer can he continue at this pace?

The current rotation features Wainwright, Mikolas, J.A. Happ and Jon Lester. All four are in their 30s and Mikolas is coming off multiple serious injuries after winning 18 games in 2018. That rotation, especially with Jack Flaherty possibly out for the season, is unlikely to consistently pitch deep into games and will only add further strain to a bullpen that has seen a lot of action this season.

For the most part, the bullpen has held up relatively well. But after likely losing Ryan Helsley for the season, the situation gets trickier for manager Mike Shildt to navigate. One of his best options, Genesis Cabrera, has been unpitchable in his last two games against the Pirates, allowing nine runs and 10 hits in one total inning of work.

It cost the Cardinals on Thursday and adds to the uncertainty of the rest of their season. Perhaps the front office explores an external addition, but the most realistic scenario is they call up fresh arms in September.

How much of a difference that makes remains to be seen. But if the Cardinals starters continue to not pitch past five innings, a common theme this season that is almost assuredly going to continue, their already slim odds of making the postseason will only get smaller.