Cardinals frustrated as offense continues to confound

News-DemocratApril 26, 2014 

— Through 25 games, the St. Louis Cardinals have produced 12 home runs, putting them on a pace for 78.

The Cardinals were homerless for the 10th consecutive game Saturday afternoon in a 6-1 loss to Pittsburgh. They haven't homered in 354 at-bats and have scored three or fewer runs in seven straight games.

"It's frustrating for everybody," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, addressing an offense that has scored just 82 runs. "The confidence usually has a lot to do with the production, but right now, we have guys searching to find it.

"We have a few guys that are feeling good, but it comes down to getting that big hit --(something) we've done so well in the past. There's not a way to train for that. It comes down to taking a consistent approach and hopefully putting together a good at-bat in the big situations."

St. Louis led the major leagues last season with a .330 average with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals were 2-for-12 in those situations Saturday as their average in the department slipped to .223.

Yadier Molina, whose 15-game hitting streak came to an end with an 0-for-4, left five runners in scoring position. He struck out with the bases loaded in the third and flied out to left with runners at second and third in the fifth.

"Frustration is the fact we know we're capable of doing this," Matheny said. "It's never easy. But (this) happens during the season. You've just got to figure it out. Right now, we can't quite figure it out. We're going to keep trying new things. ... Right now, we're fighting, and we're going to keep fighting."

Right fielder Allen Craig, who batted a robust .454 (59-for-130) with 83 RBIs with runners in scoring position last season, is hitting .174 overall this year and is 3-for-20 (.150) in clutch situations.

"You don't want to force it," Craig said Saturday after a 1-for-4 game. "Just play the game and make the right adjustment. That's what it's about. I feel OK. I don't feel great, but I don't feel terrible.

"I think I've had some good at-bats. I've hit some balls decent, but it just hasn't been there for me. It's going to improve."

Matheny said he's "seeing some broken stuff here and there" as players deal with the frustration.

"I think it's dismissed as baseball," Matheny said. "This happens. You prefer it to never happen when you go through a dry spell, but it does. The good teams just keep grinding; they keep pushing. Not trying to do too much, but not be afraid to do something.

"Hopefully, our pitching keeps us in games. It's going to happen; we're going to hit. Like it or not, that's the truth."

Matheny said before the game that he isn't concerned about the lack of power, believing it will come with solid plate fundamentals. The Cardinals hit 125 home runs last year, which ranked 13th in the National League.

"Just like last year, it didn't mean anything to me, and I don't think it means that much to our guys except some people want to keep making a big deal of it," Matheny said. "When we're scoring runs like we did last year, the home runs or power-production numbers don't mean anything to us."

The low home-run total is significant because the Cardinals haven't yet showed the type of offense they believe they possess. Their 81 runs entering Saturday were tied for 13th place in the NL with the Chicago Cubs. Their .347 slugging percentage also was 13th.

St. Louis has scored three or fewer runs in 15 of its 24 games.

"When we're not scoring runs, it stands out," Matheny said of the homerless drought. "It's something you maybe want to point to. (But) we're going to go about it the exact same way as we have and try to improve. Part of that is knowing counts to drive the ball. It's about grinding at-bats. That's the style of offense we are."

Matheny said the worst thing that can happen is seeing his players change their swing to boost their power.

"We get our guys up there thinking about home runs and extra-base hits, you're going to see popup after popup," Matheny said. "You're going to see poor at-bats. That's going to lead to poor offensive production. That's not the case with what's going on right now. But it's a trap. It's a distraction that can happen to our offense. It can happen to every player if they allow themselves to go there.

"The home runs are going to come from putting a good swing on the ball and not necessarily trying to lift and separate. We'll have better power numbers than what we had last year just by default. But it's not a focus of ours. Our goal is to score (at least) one more than the other guy."

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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