It’s been a lot of fun watching the St. Louis Cardinals storm out of the starting gate to their best opening in the team’s 123-year history.
But the Redbirds are suddenly in a very tough situation and it’s going to be interesting to see how long they can keep up their hot streak.
The Cardinals’ issues with their pitching staff are reaching crisis proportions with ace Adam Wainwright sidelined for the year and reserve starters Jaime Garcia and Marco Gonzales struggling to get healthy enough to contribute.
Meanwhile, the bullpen has been pushed to the brink of exhaustion from over-use as Carlos Martinez and Wainwright’s replacement, Tyler Lyons, have failed the last two times through the rotation to pitch deep into games.
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In short: The Cardinals need to think about the long, 162-game season. It’s a marathon and they’ve come out of the blocks like a sprinter.
The pitching was the rock of the Redbirds through the first month of the season. Now it’s the most questionable aspect of the team.
Fortunately, as we move into May, the offense has really come around lately. It’s been putting up tallies through aggressive base running, a high on base percentage and clutch hitting despite a bit of a weak power attack.
The Cardinals scored 16 runs in three games against the Pirates, despite the absence of catalyst Matt Carpenter who has been sidelined for nearly a week with a mystery ailment.
After a lousy April, Jason Heyward has hit .333 in May to raise his season average to .259 with two homers, seven doubles and four stolen bases. Kolten Wong has caught fire and raised his batting average to .336 with eight doubles, four homers and 17 runs batted in. Matt Holliday continues to contribute heavily with a .343 average, nine extra base hits and 17 RBIs.
Yadier Molina, Matt Adams and Johnny Peralta have been hit and miss. They’ve each helped win games with their bats -- and they’ve each strung together some poor games at the plate.
Off the bench, Peter Bourjos has earned more playing time with some exciting offense, He leads the team with two triples in a little more than a third of the plate appearances of the starters. He’s tied with Heyward for the team lead in stolen bases with four.
The Birds should soon see slugging outfielder Randal Grichuk return from the disabled list. Carpenter is supposed to rejoin the team in Cleveland Monday. But I have not yet heard an explanation of why a 29-year-old guy who seems to be in prime physical condition would suffer from “extreme fatigue” less than a month and a half into the baseball season. I sure hope there isn’t a bigger issue that’s not being revealed.
Playing American League style baseball over the next three days is going to be a blessing or a curse -- but nothing in between.
It will minimize the impact of the Cardinals bench by eliminating the need for pinch hitters and double switches. But I theoretically could help get the bullpen back in shape if it helps the starters go deep into games. That will be decided not by the pitcher’s turn in the order but strictly on their ability to perform on the mound. So we’ll see.
If someone would have told me the Cardinals wouldn’t lose their first series of the season until the rubber game on May 10 I would have been elated. I still am elated.
But there is much to be concerned about if Martinez can’t get his emotions back in check and pitch like he did for the first month of the season, Lyons can’t settle in and at least give the Cardinals five or six innings and a chance to win when his turn comes ‘round and the Cardinals don’t find a way to keep Martinez and ace in waiting Michael Wacha from being over-used.