Can these Cardinals make a deep playoff run?

News-DemocratSeptember 17, 2013 

The Cardinals just can't seem to keep all phases of their game going at the same time.

Far too often for such a talented team when the pitchers pitch well, the offense can't score. And when the offense gets it together, then suddenly the pitchers can't get the job done.

When it all comes together, the Redbirds can be dominating -- even against the best team in baseball. But when things are uneven, the outcome is anyone's guess. And at times when both phases are in a funk, the Cardinals can look sensationally bad.

I don't know if I have ever seen a team that cranks out 19 hits and 12 runs one day with ease and then the next it struggles to score at all against a young pitcher with a lifetime earned run average on the wrong side of 10.00.

I don't think it's a lack of skill or that the lack of runs can even be attributed to occasional slumps. I think it's a lack of focus and planning.

The Cardinals have a bunch of guys who can hit for high average and get on base. But they don't have an excessive amount of power and they have virtually no team speed at all. That's a problem because the Redbirds have to string several hits together if they hope to score. And, in the meantime, they're extremely vulnerable to killing their own rallies by grounding into double plays.

I don't get it. In spring training games the Redbirds put great emphasis on using the hit and run play. They also used delayed steals, bunts and hitting the ball behind runners to keep the base path merry-go-round moving. Then when the games started to count, they quit cold turkey. Why practice something you don't plan to use when it counts.

The St. Louis batsmen were just a hair off Monday, perplexed by a pitcher who could change speeds dramatically. And the result as, although they hit the ball squarely, there often wasn't much power behind it. I don't think I have ever seen this team hit so many 285-foot fly balls.

The offense has come so predictable that opponents have become extremely comfortable using exaggerated shifts against Carlos Beltran, Matt Adams and sometimes Matt Holliday.

It's frustrating to watch the games on TV and see one of those guys rip a ball past the pitcher only to discover that one of the middle infielders standing right behind second base to make an easy play.

It's even more frustrating to realize that if Beltran or the other St. Louis hitters stymied by the defensive alignment would take advantage here and there to slap a ball to the opposite field that it not only would benefit the club in the short term with extra baserunners. But it would also force the defense to account for that likelihood -- and then the hot spots those hitters prefer to shoot for would open back up again.

There are a lot of young players on this team. But there is certainly enough of a veteran presence to command that the game is played the right way, doing what's best for the team instead of playing as a bunch of individuals all pulling in different directions.

It's amazing that we're three weeks deep into September and Cardinals fans don't yet have a sense if this team has what it takes to go all the way -- or if this club has too many flaws to be a serious contender.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at 239-2626 or swuerz@bnd.com. His Cardinals fan blog "View From the Cheap Seats" appears daily online at www.bnd.com. Follow @scottwuerz on Twitter.

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