are mired in their first real slump of the season.
That's not to say the Cards haven't faced any adversity before now, of course; there have been a couple of really tough losses already in 2012, and they have seemed to come in bunches, little clusters of misery amidst what has been to this point an incredibly encouraging start to the season.
But this, well, this feels a little different. The last four games haven't felt like a team playing really well, only to see their nightly effort derailed by a bad bounce, or a bad call, or one reliever having an off night. The Cardinals played terrible baseball against Atlanta, and didn't look any better last night against the Cubs. The number of runners left on base over the past handful of games could win a week's worth of close contests, and the starters suddenly look downright average.
Should we be worried?
No, probably not. This team is better than they've shown this homestand. But considering the way the schedule worked out early in the year, and where the team's run differential says they should
be, record-wise, it's beginning to feel like these first six weeks have represented a missed opportunity to take a much tighter grip on the division than the Cardinals have been able to. Let's just hope we aren't looking back later in the season and wondering what could have been. Notes, all bullety and pointy for easy digestion:
- Jake Westbrook didn't really look terrible last night; he looked just a shade off and a little unlucky to me. Definitely not as sharp as he has been for most of the season, Westbrook struggled to get ahead consistently, and then he struggled to actually put hitters away when he did get ahead of them. As much as any of that, though, Westbrook's struggles last night were also largely a product of a bunch of balls finding daylight, rather than the gloves of infielders. You live by contact, you're occasionally going to die by contact. It's just one of those things. The number of deep counts worked by the Chicago hitters was definitely a problem, though. Westbrook doesn't really have a putaway pitch on his best day, but watching Cubs foul off pitch after pitch last night was all the indication needed that his location simply wasn't where it should have been.
- Okay, seriously, who do I need to blow to fix it so that we don't have to watch Skip Schumaker at second base anymore? I am absolutely willing to take one for the team, so to speak; I just don't know who exactly I need to be setting my sights on.
- Allen Craig, you're awesome. I don't really have anything else useful to say here, so I'll just leave it at that. Congrats Allen on the awesomeness.
- Speaking of Allen Craig, the eighth inning was just an absolute back breaker, when Craig led off the inning with a double, then stayed right there at second base as Lance Berkman, David Freese, and Yadier Molina failed to even advance him to third. Man on second leading off the inning, three of your big offensive boppers coming up, and you can't get him home? Not going to win many games that way.
- Eduardo Sanchez looked very, very good in his first major league appearance of the season. I'm not sure if you can really use the word 'vintage' to refer to a player who has only been around for one season, but the slider that David DeJesus took for a called third strike last night was, well, vintage Sanchez. Hopefully the mechanical issues which have plagued Eduardo this season are a thing of the past and we can look forward to more of those kinds of performances.
- You know, every time I think Mitchell Boggs has things all figured out, and he's ready to take that next step forward to become an elite late-inning reliever, he goes and has a week like this one. He was shaky in Arizona (and shaky is being charitable), shakier against the Braves, and failed in a crucial situation last night. The problem with Boggs' performance wasn't an excessive number of baserunners; it was falling behind Alfonso Soriano 2-0 after an intentional walk to Bryan LaHair. Boggs has owned Soriano in the past, but when you miss with the first two against a hitter who is generally willing to get himself out if only you'll give him the opportunity, that's just asking for trouble. And trouble, of course, is just what Boggs got. Boggs' numbers on the season are still quite good, but after a sterling April that made us all -- or maybe just me, the sucker -- believe he was really ready for that next big step, May has seen him revert right back to the old Mitchell Boggs, with shaky command and far too many hits resulting in frustration for those who have to watch him night after night, wondering how a guy with that arm could possibly get such mediocre results.
- Rafael Furcal going 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts makes me a sad panda. It also goes a long way in explaining why the Cardinals had trouble scoring last night. Furcal has been unbelievably brilliant in the early going this season; getting on base roughly six times per game (factual!), as a leadoff hitter makes the offense behind you look awfully good. Hopefully that was the last Ofer we see out of Raffy for awhile.
The Cardinals only have one more game on this oddly abbreviated five-game homestand, and they'll need to beat Paul Maholm, he of the soft-tossing lefty fraternity, if they want to avoid going winless at Busch. Fortunately for the Cards, they typically take it to Maholm in a big way; unfortunately, Maholm comes in riding a hot streak. Something has to give.
Kyle Lohse will take the mound for the Redbirds, nursing a sore hamstring. Four bad starts in a row for the Cards, and the fifth will be taken by a guy with a bum leg. Not the most encouraging of signs, I have to say.