What a difference one game can make.
Sure, it's a long season and one has to keep an even keel. But wouldn't we all feel a little bit better about the sagging Cardinals had they not coughed up a pair of three-run leads Sunday at Oakland?
They would have won a tough West Coast series and been on a bit of a roll going in to Anaheim for what is sure to be an emotionally-charged set of games, at least from the Cardinals' viewpoint. Instead, they've lost three of their last five series while tying one they should have won against the Astros. The only series they won was the four-game set against the Cubs.
The offense has sputtered a bit lately. But it found it's stroke Saturday. The Birds batsmen put up a bunch of runs in the second game of the Oakland set and ace Adam Wainwright made it stand up by allowing one run in a complete game. On Sunday the Cardinals scored five runs in the first three innings. But starting pitcher Jake Westbrook gave it all back and then some.
Westbrook, who was signed to a contract extension to give a young rotation a veteran presence, shrank in the spotlight and allowed six earned runs on 10 hits in four innings. He also walked two batters and was constantly behind in the count with 83 pitches thrown in his four frames.
I find Westbrook to be totally maddening because when he has his act together he can be totally dominating. On June 19 against Chicago he allowed no earned runs on two hits over seven innings of work. But it seems like he has a good game and then Westbrook sits back and takes it easy for a while.
He had absolutely nothing going on Sunday. His fastball was all over the place and his slider was ineffective. The only pitch Westbrook seemed able to get over with any consistency was his change-up. And that doesn't do a pitcher a heck of a lot of good when batters can expect it to be coming.
My feeling about the Cardinals rotation hasn't changed since spring training. Back then I thought this club had an ace in Wainwright to go along with a group of number four or five starters because of a combination of youth and mediocrity.
Jaime Garcia was the best candidate to be the number two man. And that wasn't saying much for a guy who has great stuff to go with a reputation of fragility. Garcia's out for the year. That leaves rookie Shelby Miller and second year hurlers Lance Lynn -- who crashed and burned last year in the second half -- and Joe Kelly -- who has been buried in the bullpen since mid March -- along with the confounding Westbrook to round out the starting five.
I don't see how the Cardinals will make it very far in the post season -- provided they don't fall apart between now an then -- without at least one other pitcher they can count on in big games. I'm relatively sure as the calendar turns from June to July without anything reassuring coming from the Chris Carpenter camp that the solution isn't going to come from within.
Any players the Cardinals promote -- Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez or another bush leaguer -- is going to suffer from the inconsistencies of inexperience.
The Birds could make a medium-sized move to try to shore things up for the short term. But that's not going to help them much in a high stakes playoff series. And any big deal for a Cliff Lee sort is going to threaten to pry away some of the Redbirds' prized prospects.
It's a tough spot for General Manager John Mozeliak. I certainly am not in favor of parting with Wacha or Martinez for a rental pitcher. But, if this team is going to have a chance this year to improve on its 2012 finish one win short of the World Series, something is going to have to happen.