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The return of Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna isn’t helping the St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals are often told that getting back injured veterans from the injured list is just as good as the team making a trade.

But getting the team’s lead off man and cleanup hitter back from the land of the injured seems to have only made the offense worse.

It was an unhappy return Sunday for Cardinals leadoff man Matt Carpenter, who lowered his .215 batting average with a 1-for-5 performance in a flat loss to the Oakland Athletics.

Carpenter struck out twice, left four runners on base and seemed to dive over a ball at third base that proved to be a blow from which the Cardinals offense could not recover.

Meanwhile, cleanup man Marcel Ozuna joined Carpenter in stranding four runners on base as part of a 4-2 loss in Oakland. St. Louis mustered only five hits. Arguably the two most important hitters in the lineup, the leadoff man and cleanup guy only accounted for one of them.

While it seems they the Cardinals rushed Ozuna back from the injured list, Carpenter has a completely different story. The nomadic infielder endured a lengthy rehab tour of the minor leagues during which he couldn’t hit a lick.

At this point, I sincerely hope Carpenter is suffering a health issue because, otherwise, he appears to be toast. His swing is slow and weak and I don’t recall ever seeing a guy who could so easily be pitched to. Hurlers are so fearless about Carp’s ability to hit the ball the other way that all four of their infielders now often play on the first base side of the infield.

Apologists will say that hitting the ball the other way is hard and that pitchers don’t give batters pitches on the outside part of the plate. But, with the third baseman playing an up the middle shortstop position in his second at-bat Sunday, Carpenter struck out on a pitch at the knees on the outside corner. If you’re trying to hit a grounder right inside the third base bag, there is no better pitch to hope for.

I hope this is just a matter of scraping off the rust for these veteran players and the cleanup process is quick and efficient. Because, after three months of wondering around lost in the land of .500 baseball, the Birds finally started to find a little bit of their mojo after the all-star break — with Tommy Edman leading off and splitting reps at third base with Yairo Munoz. Not only has their offense been better than Carpenter’s up to this point, but they’re both much better defenders, too.

I hate to even bring up the fact that all-world catcher Yadier Molina has struggled at the plate this season while Matt Wieters has done an excellent job both at and beyond the plate.

I just hope that manager Mike Shildt decides to play the guys on his roster who are getting the job done best, not the guys who are pulling down the biggest paychecks. And that goes for Dexter Fowler, too. Fowler has played much better than I was expecting this year. Still, the Cardinals have to be aware of the fact that Fowler’s batting average has fallen to .239 and his OPS has fallen to .749, ahead of only Carpenter and Kolten Wong.

Wong seems that have been inspired by the threat of Edman taking his job away. Over the past month, he’s hit better than he has for quite a while. He’ll probably pass Fowler soon without a major change in fortunes.

At this point, I don’t care what the name plate says on the back of the jersey. The Cardinals have to play the hot hand . They’ve lost the first two games of a tough road trip, and they can’t afford to get hammered by the Los Angeles Dodgers if they don’t want to lose sight of first place.