We can debate until we're blue in the face whether a pitcher or a hitter was more important to the Cardinals pennant hopes.
But it doesn't matter if the Cardinals added Cy Young and Babe Ruth to their lineup. If they don't stop making mental and physical errors, nothing is going to save their season that began with such lofty expectations.
The Redbirds do three things with startling regularity that are poison to a baseball team's chances of winning:
1) They commit extremely unfortunate fielding errors -- often with two outs -- that force pitchers to get four and five outs an innings instead of the customary three. Innings should be over but, instead, hurlers are out there in pressure packed situations trying to keep molehills from turning into mountains. Meanwhile, their pitch counts climb and they often see their nights come to a premature end.
2) They're far too often unproductive with runners on base. Yeah, I get it that you can't get a hit every time. But the Cardinals all too often find themselves with a runner on and no one out only to have the batter strike out or pop up. Hitters need to stop thinking about homers and start thinking about advancing the base runner. A run here and a run there adds up. How many games have been lost this season because the Cardinals couldn't score that extra run or two when they had the chance?
3) The Birds hit into waaaaaaaaay too many double plays. St. Louis hitters have accounted for 91 double plays so far this season, which ranks them third in the National League behind the plodding Giants (105) and the hopelessly bad Cubs offense (92). Part of this is a result of the Redbirds pull happiness. Yadier Molina has a great opposite field stroke. He can plug the gap and send runners scooting around the bases. But lately he's pulling the ball to the shortstop. And, with his speed, the second baseman can stop for a cup of coffee before relaying the ball to first base and still get the twin killing.
I don't know where the fundamentals went or what the Cardinals can do in the two months left in the season to fix these problems. But nothing is going to change until they do.
I'm not sure if it is an effort on behalf of the club to offset criticism over the Ryan Ludwick trade or what, but I was a bit surprised to hear the story that the former St. Louis rightfielder had a heated confrontation with manager Tony La Russa over playing time just before he got shipped out. The implication seems to be that Ludwick was a malcontent. But I still don't believe anything other than that Ludwick was a budget casualty. The Redbirds knew they were going to have to pay him $8 million plus in his final year of arbitration in 2011 and they didn't want to do it.
I never understood why La Russa played games with Ludwick and sat him on the bench so often when he'd proven to be a starter with a strong RBI bat that won a Silver Slugger award and a trip to the All-Star Game.
If they re-sign Albert Pujols, I understand the Cardinals' decision to let Ludwick walk. I also appreciated watching the guy Ludwick was traded for, Jake Westbrook, turn in an impressive performance from the fourth spot in the rotation. But It was hard watching the Cardinals struggle to score runs and butcher a play in right field Monday night that contributed to the game being lost. Meanwhile Ludwick has gone 3-for-7 since his trade to San Diego and helped the Padres win both games in which he has played.
La Russa gets after players he doesn’t think give 100 percent effort or mental focus. But, while there is a lot of talk about some players on this team not hustling on the bases or keeping their head in the game at the plate, Ludwick was never one of those guys.
And that, more than anything else, is what I will miss about him.