Just the type of loss that the Cardinals need to avoid, and just the kind I'm afraid we may see more of.
With the fortunes of the National League Central looking stronger so far this year, if the Cardinals have any chance of seriously contending this season, they need to take advantage of their weak April schedule to build up a bit of a buffer against par. That includes beating bad teams, particularly when said team's weaker pitchers are on the mound.
Thursday night, not such a good start.
The Giants' fifth starter, Kevin Correia, was on the mound. Not to take anything away from Correia, who pitched very well, but considering the quality of pitching the Cards are going to have to face the rest of this series, they really needed to win the game last night. Now they find themselves facing a lefty of the soft tossing variety in Barry Zito tonight, and San Francisco's Young Turks, Cain and Lincecum. This isn't working out well so far at all.
We saw last night the problem with this particular Cardinal lineup. Outside of the middle of the order, there are just too many holes, too many players that the opposing team's pitcher can consider an easy out. Particularly with Chris Duncan, whose struggles are beginning to look more and more serious to me. In the lineup, a pitcher can simply ignore probably four hitters. Pujols, Ankiel, and Glaus are still fairly imposing, and Skip Schumaker has performed fairly well, but with Duncan in the 2-hole, the second, sixth, seventh, eight and ninth spots are all easy outs, as Adam Kennedy and Yadier Molina, the two most common sixth hitters in this lineup so far this year, both appear to be falling rapidly back to earth after solid starts.
Bottom line: this offense has plenty of thunder in the middle. The players surrounding that middle, though, simply don't offer enough in the way of production to ensure this offense can score. You can only give up so many outs each time through the lineup before you simply don't have enough possible base runners to do any real damage, and that's where the Cards are finding themselves at the moment.
Let's hope for better from the Cardinals tonight, but don't hold your breath. Brian Barton should start in the outfield, and probably Ryan Ludwick, so we may see a slightly stronger batting order, but even so, this lineup severely lacks depth. Unfortunately, I don't see a quick fix coming; the weakest offensive spots are in the middle of the diamond, and there's little help to expect at any of those positions any time soon.
I said a while back that the starting pitchers had better continue on with the greatest start to a season that a rotation has probably ever had. After witnessing Thursday night's offensive struggles, I stand by it. You had better shut ‘em down, boys, because I don't think this team is going to be outgunning much of anybody this year.
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