Cheap Seats

Fundamental flaws: St. Louis Cardinals error-prone defense, lack of clutch offense on display to start Toronto series

The St. Louis Cardinals were able to improve their record to something approaching respectability with a recently-concluded red-hot road trip.

But, regardless of the fact that the Redbirds have managed to string a few wins together and near the .500 mark in the standings, they still have a lot of work to do in cleaning up their game if they’re going to be legitimate contenders in 2017.

In their return to Busch Stadium Tuesday night, the Birds left runners in scoring position in bunches, made crucial defensive miscues and couldn’t seem to make the big pitch when they needed to come through. St. Louis players made more than enough mistakes to cost their team a game it should have won easily.

The lowlight of the night was likely when St. Louis loaded the bases with no one out only to see Randal Grichuk strike out in a poor at bat and then Kolten Wong find a way – despite his foot speed – to hit into a rally-killing double play.

Can’t anyone hit a lazy fly ball any more to sacrifice home a run? This Cardinals team is taking a simple game and making it far too complicated.

A close second to the bases loaded debacle came when Stephen Piscotty led off with a double – and then never moved to another station as the next three hitters whiffed one after another.

Baseball is a tough game. About the easiest it’s going to get is when batters walk up to the plate knowing they don’t have to get a hit – they just have to make a productive out by advancing the baserunners – to help their team. You don’t always have to try do something heroic when just doing something helpful will suffice. When you try to do too much, sometimes you get yourself out.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals had two on with no one out and Greg Garcia promptly hit into an inning-ending double play. The, in the top of the ninth, high-dollar reliever Brett Cecil walked the leadoff man and then sent him all the way to third base with an errant pickoff throw. Cecil struck out the next hitter and then was 0-2 on the following batter to get within a strike of two outs and a chance to get out of the jam.

But, at a time when the pitcher should waste an offering to try to get an overly aggressive hitter to get himself out, Cecil served up a pitch high in the strike zone to put Toronto ahead.

The Cardinals managed to tie the game again in the bottom of the ninth and force extra innings. But, without any bench players left in extra innings, Toronto was forced to send pitcher Marcus Stroman to the plate. Naturally, Stroman stroked a double for his first major league hit. Then, with two outs, Aledmys Diaz made the fourth error of the night for the St. Louis defense to allow Toronto to take the lead AGAIN.

I would say the game was a comedy of errors – if there was anything funny about all the mental and physical mistakes St. Louis made.

Simply put, the Redbirds don’t deserve to win the way they played Tuesday night. You can’t hand chance after chance to an opposing Toronto club that came into the game with a 5-14 record. The Blue Jays, reportedly, didn’t even arrive in St. Louis until 7 a.m. Tuesday morning after traveling all night. And Toronto was forced to play without star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki who is injured.

We have heard for years about the fabled “Cardinals way.” But the current edition of this team certainly isn’t living up to the St. Louis tradition of solid fundamental play, aggressive but smart baseball and dominant pitching.

Baseball is a tough game and teams are rarely going to have a perfect night. But it’s the club that makes the least mistakes that typically takes home a win at the end of the night. People like to say that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good. But that’s not very often the case over a 162-game season.

The Cardinals need to find a way to get better – and fast – or their road trip rally is going to go to waste.