When the 2019 season began, it seemed the consensus that the NL Central was going to be a battle between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs because the Milwaukee Brewers just didn’t have enough pitching to be competitive.
But it has been the Redbirds when the teams have met early in the 2019 season, who appear that they couldn’t pitch their way out of wet paper bag.
The Cardinals made a willful decision to go with a youth movement on the mound, counting on Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes to win games for the team. But young players have growing pains and, only in the third week of the season, Reyes has already been shipped to the minor leagues while Flaherty and Hudson have been whipping boys for their division rival.
On Monday, Hudson gave up six earned runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings to see his season earned run average rise to 6.08. On Tuesday, Flaherty somehow did worse, giving up nine hits and five earned runs while only lasting 2 2/3 frames. His ERA rose to 5.00 on the young season. The short outings contributed to the ravaging of the St. Louis bullpen which was fantastic during the Los Angeles Dodgers series. But there are only so many times you can go to the well before the bucket starts to come up dry.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many options when your prized prospect is standing on the mound with a five or a six in one of the innings on the scoreboard. The kids seem to be losing their composure lately, but manager Mike Shildt can’t leave them in the game to get their brains beat in and have their confidence completely destroyed. Not only can’t the St. Louis starters get the likes of reigning MVP Christian Yelich out. But they’re doing their best to prevent the designated hitter to the National League by getting dominated by opposing hurlers who seem to deal a damaging blow almost every single game.
I find it to be extremely unlikely that the Birds would go out and sign free agent veteran hurler Dallas Keuchel, so I’m not even going to suggest it. But this team, for all its alleged pitching depth, could sure use an imposing competitor or two up at the top of the rotation not only to eat innings but to mentor the youngsters on how to win at the big league level.
Cardinals defense isn’t helping its pitchers
While there is plenty of blame to go around to the members of the starting rotation in the second Milwaukee series, the defense sure isn’t doing much to help St. Louis hurlers.
As plentiful as RBI hits from opposing pitchers are, the Birds are just as prolific at creating blooper reel defensive plays. There was Marcell Ozuna’s scaling, and then falling off, the outfield wall; Matt Carpenter had a couple of easy balls go through him and had another play where he had all day to make a throw, wound up like he was Sandy Koufax and then air mailed the ball over Paul Goldschmidt’s head at first.
Dexter Fowler dropped a lazy fly ball that most little leaguers would have hung onto and Tyler O’Neill threw a ball that no one can be sure if it was intended for home plate or third base. Sadly, he hurt himself on the play, adding injury to insult.
Offense starting to heat up for St. Louis
Looking for a bright side, it’s encouraging to see Ozuna hit like he means it. While he’s had his share of games this season in which he appeared as if he would have done just as well if he closed his eyes when he took a hack, lately he’s been locked in, proving much-needed power and run production when others haven’t been able to get in gear.
Kolten Wong’s unsustainable early season batting average came down to earth. But he had a really pretty opposite field single to do his part to try to start a comeback rally late Tuesday. Wong is at his best when he is a multi-dimensional hitter who can hit the ball anywhere from foul line to foul line based on what the defense is doing and where the ball was pitched. It would have been easy for him to be tempted to try to overpower an outside pitch with a couple runners on to try to ride the ball out of the ballpark. Instead, he went with the pitch and smacked a solid line drive through a gaping hole in the defense. Well done. He should show that trick to Matt Carpenter.
Dexter Fowler had a couple of base hits Tuesday and has quietly raised his batting average to .260 over the past few days, a number that seems pretty lofty compared to his .180 mark last year. He needs to find some power and hit better in the clutch — he struck out in the middle of an eighth inning rally with runners on the corners and only one out — as well as discovering a way to drive in some runs. But he looked like he was fresh out of confidence a week ago so, hopefully, these hits will lead to some momentum.
Paul Goldschmidt hasn’t hit for average yet. But he’s coming through with some big blows to contribute to the offensive effort. I still think he’d make more people around him better if he was hitting third or fourth. But Shildt seems to have made up his mind on that subject. Still, if the Cardinals have won more games than they have lost and Goldschmidt hasn’t gotten hot yet, it bodes well for the future.