There certainly is no need to panic for the St. Louis Cardinals, who have a major-league best 64-37 record and a 4 1/2-game lead in the NL Central.
But many are wondering where the offense is hiding. The Cardinals have scored three or fewer runs in 32 of their last 54 games since May 29. In those games, they are 13-19.
They were shut out 1-0 by Cincinnati on Wednesday, their second consecutive shutout loss. St. Louis has one run in its last 22 innings and has scored in one of its last 30 innings.
St. Louis began Wednesday ranked eighth in the National League in runs (397) and slugging percentage (.387), and was 11th in home runs (79). More was expected from a lineup that includes Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward, Yadier Molina and Jhonny Peralta.
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Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, however, takes exception when it is suggested that his team is in an offensive “funk.”
“I don’t see a hitting funk,” Matheny said Wednesday, the day after his team was shut out for the seventh time this season, 4-0 by the Cincinnati Reds. “What I see is, day by day, we’ve got opportunities for guys to go take good at-bats. We had some good at-bats (Tuesday).
“Once again, we can’t allow ourselves to fall into the trap of being so results-oriented that we don’t evaluate the process. We had some good at-bats and we found a good part of the bat a number of times (Tuesday). We just didn’t find the grass and didn’t find a spot on base.”
Carpenter is enduring the worst season of his four-year career, as he began Wednesday with a .254 average and 79 strikeouts in 347 at-bats. Holliday, meanwhile, is batting a respectable .290, but he had just four homers and 31 RBIs in 207 at-bats before he suffered another injury to his right quad and exited the game in the first inning Wednesday. Holliday has not homered at Busch Stadium this season. Molina is batting .284, yet 77 of his 98 hits are singles.
Given that all players can do is put a good swing on the ball, Matheny – when times are lean – focuses on the number of hard-hit balls that are caught. Kolten Wong hit two long fly balls Tuesday, and Heyward hit a 109-mph rocket to second base Monday that was caught.
“Those are usually times when a team starts almost manufacturing an overall bad feeling for your offense when you start overthinking it and not being realistic evaluators of what you’re doing,” Matheny said. “We can put up big offensive numbers. We know that. We’ve just got to stick with the process and realize that’s what we’ve been doing all season.
“There’s room for growth, but what we’re doing is going about it the right way.”
Matheny said low run production in St. Louis is a reflection of the way things are in the game, with pitching trumping hitting in a role reversal of a decade ago when offense ruled.
“I saw (Tuesday) night, 20-some runs by New York,” Matheny said of the Yankees’ 21-5 shellacking of the Texas Rangers. “Besides that, what’s going on here is not that much different than what’s going on all the way through baseball. Let’s make sure we’re being accurate with what the expectations is here. The expectation is we go out and we take good at-bats.
“I guess it’s interesting news, but for us, it’s, ‘Get back to the process.’ If we do that, we’re going to increase our odds. That’s all we want to do is go out here and win games.”
Matheny is even hesitant to discuss the slumbering offense because he fears that once it becomes a major topic of conversation, his players will begin to press.
“The more it’s talked about ... the more it’s brought into the forefront, the more they’ve got to answer questions about it, the more they’ve got to defend what they’re doing, the more likelihood is we go in a different direction,” Matheny said.
After one of his players takes an 0-for-4 or 0-for-5, Matheny said it’s standard procedure to remind the player that he wasn’t far away from it being a 2-for-4 or 3-for-5. Matheny used Carpenter as a random example of how a discussion might begin.
“’All right, Matt, how many times did you line out today? You lined out twice. It shows you got no hits, but you lined out twice. Let’s talk about what you had to do in order to make that happen. That’s showing us that a lot of things are coming together right,’” Matheny said.
“It’s taking the reality and not just the results. I think that’s our job as a staff, to make sure we stay the course with that. Not to just pump these guys up and try to make everything look like it’s puppies and kittens. But let’s be positive to the point of reality. The reality is there’s been some good at-bats with bad results lately.”
Reds 3, Cardinals 0
Jay Bruce hit a bases-empty homer in the second inning Wednesday and it was all the Cincinnati Reds needed in a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that gave them two out of three in the series. Bruce connected on a 2-2 pitch from John Lackey (9-6), sending it barely over the wall in center field for his 17th homer of the season.
By the numbers
The Cardinals have been blanked in the last 22 innings and have scored in just one of the last 30 innings. ... Lackey fell to 7-3 at Busch Stadium this season despite lowering his home ERA to 1.89. He allowed just two hits, walked one and struck out eight. ... Anthony DeSclafini (6-7) fired seven shutout innings for the Reds. ... Aroldis Chapman pitched the ninth for his 21st save.
Carlos Martinez (11-4, 2.34 ERA) vs. Chris Rusin (3-4, 4.13 ERA) in the opener of a four-game series against the Colorado Rockies, 6:15 p.m. Thursday.