The St. Louis Cardinals still have a relatively comfortable lead in the National League Central race as the season winds down.
But it’s more than a little disturbing how the club has completely fallen apart on the field over the past week or so.
The Redbirds haven’t just lost a few games here and there. They’ve completely had their butts kicked by not only the two teams that are closest to them in the standings. But on Thursday they were totally destroyed by a team with a lousy record and absolutely nothing left to play for, the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cardinals couldn’t hit, pitch, run the bases or defend against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs and, last night in an 11-0 drubbing at the hands of the Reds.
It’s perplexing that the club could fall apart so completely and it makes me more than a little bit afraid that, after seeing its roster ravaged by injuries all season long, the Birds are simply exhausted.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who has played 135 games so far this season without an offensively capable backup shortstop on the roster for the bulk of the season, seems to be completely worn down.
He hit .298 in the first half of the season with 13 homers and 46 RBIs. Often pressed into hitting third or fourth in the batting order due to injures suffered but Matt Adams and Matt Holliday, has hit .232 in the second half with three homers and 14 RBIs. His bat looks slow and he’s struggled to consistently hit the ball hard with a measley .316 slugging percentage since the All-Star Game.
Kolten Wong, who missed several games in a row a couple of weeks ago when he needed a mental break after a rash of defensive miscues, is on the bench again the last several days with what is reported as a calf injury.
Wong hit .280 in the first half of the season with nine homers and a .343 on-base percentage. In the second half he is batting .236 with two homers and a .292 on-base percentage.
Meanwhile, the starting pitchers who have been the backbone of this team all season have suddenly become shaky.
While Carlos Martinez and Lance Lynn have struggled lately, a move by manager Mike Matheny to get his starting pitchers some extra rest has seemingly backfire, causing hurlers to lose their sharpness and command.
The Cardinals are fortunate that the Pirates have struggled lately, allowing them to maintain a 4 1/2-game lead in the Central Division.
But they can’t afford to continue to lose games by the bushel.
St. Louis simply must find a way to right its ship against the Pirates and the Milwaukee Brewers over the next six days if they want to win the division.
Adams and Grichuk were activated this week, albeit in limited duty. Holliday is supposed to be activated next week. This is as good as things are going to get as far as the roster is concerned.
It’s time to refocus, manufacture some runs and play the sort of defense this club has played all year to get back in the win column.
Either this slump is perfectly timed, getting it out of the way before the final push to the playoffs. Or it will be heartbreaking to see a team that persevered for so long run out of gas this close to the finish line.