Just when it appears the St. Louis Cardinals might be breaking out of their season-long funk, they completely disappear and sink back down into mediocrity.
Fans were understandably excited when the Redbirds dominated the Los Angeles Dodgers in their first series back from the All-Star Game break. The Cardinals reached the 10 games over .500 mark and briefly tied the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the National League Central.
The the fourth place, under .500 Tampa Bay Rays rolled into town for a two game set. Sure, Tampa has been hot lately. But the Birds have ace and Cy Young Award candidate Adam Wainwright going in the first game and Lance Lynn, one of the winningest pitchers in the National League over the past three years set to pitch the second.
The Rays countered with local product Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb. Odorizzi is a promising young pitcher, for sure. But he entered the series with a 6-8 record and an earned run average over 4.00. Cobb was 5-6 with a 4.08 ERA before starting the second game of the series.
So, naturally, the Tampa Bay hitters bombed Wainwright and Lynn, accused by naysayers of being the product of timely offense, was hung out to dry by his hitters.
The Cardinals were out-scored 10-2 in the two-game set and they dropped two games behind the Brewers in the Central Division race.
The losses not only hurt the Redbirds in the standings. If they really have plans to try to make a trade with the Rays involving starting pitcher David Price, they've probably muddied the water on that front, too.
Tampa reporters say that Rays are torn about whether to sell off their stars and attempt to rebuild -- or hold onto them and make a push for the post season -- thanks to a hot streak that has seen them win 25 of their last 36 games.
The Rays still have a huge mountain to climb with three teams ahead of them in their division and intense competition for a wildcard playoff berth. The Cardinals could have dealt their postseason dreams a huge blow by beating up on Tampa, inspiring the club to leave Price behind when it departed St. Louis.
Instead, the way the Rays dominated the St. Louis hitters must leave them more confident than ever.