Slumping Cardinals believe best is yet to come

BY foxsports • July 18, 2012

MILWAUKEE – The St. Louis Cardinals believe they are just too talented to be playing this poorly. But they also know things need to start turning around rather quickly.
 
The Cardinals finished a tough 1-5 road trip Wednesday afternoon with a 4-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers that dropped them to just two games over the 500 mark and 4.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central.
 
And it was a painful end to a brutal trip. For the second consecutive day, they ended the game with the tying run just 90 feet away. But despite their struggles, the Cardinals remain positive that things will begin to turn around.
 
"We haven't played our game yet all season," said starter Adam Wainwright, who saw a brilliant outing wasted by another day of no offense.
 
"We had a pretty good stretch to start the season but since then, we haven't played Cardinal baseball like we can. We will play it, its just a matter of time, but we need to crank it up sooner or later and get some urgency in here and go out and play every inning like it's the last inning we're going to play. Sooner or later it will be. The team knows that, we just have to go out and execute."
 
The Cardinals were swept in Cincinnati to start play after the All-Star break despite being tied or winning all three games at some point in the seventh inning or later. They scored three runs or less in each of the six games, a feat they've accomplished just five times since 2000.
 
And it's happening in a confusing way. The starting pitching has been great and the offense has struggled, a combination most Cardinals fans wouldn't have deemed possible earlier in the season.
 
The Cardinals are just 8-for-51 (.157 avg.) with runners in scoring position since the All-Star break. They had a runner on base in all nine innings Wednesday but scored runs on two solo homers and a bases-loaded walk in the ninth.
 
"That's how the game goes sometimes," said outfielder Allen Craig, who contributed a solo homer in the third and a walk in the ninth. "We have so many good hitters that we get a lot of runners on but you're not going to get them in every time. It's frustrating and we take a lot of pride in what we do and we prepare and do our best but sometimes it's not going to happen, but I can guarantee you at the end, we're going to look back and well be in a good spot. We'll be alright.
 
"We're disappointed but if we continue to dwell on it and think about it as a problem, then it will become one. We have a lot of good hitters and players in this room that have been through a lot of stuff, so we know how to handle adversity."
 
While the starting pitching took much of the criticism earlier in the season, they have been anything but the problem during the recent funk. Their starters have a 2.34 ERA since July 2, the lowest mark of any team in the big leagues.
 
Cardinals starters have a 2.76 ERA in the past seven games but somehow are 0-4. The team is 2-5 in those games. They have gone at least six innings in every start in July and have provided quality starts in 11 of the 14.
 
But they have pretty much nothing to show for it, as Wainwright did on Wednesday. He allowed just one earned run in seven innings and had nine strikeouts, but three errors in the first inning led to three unearned runs that proved too much for the offense to overcome.
 
"We really haven't given our starting pitching what they've deserved here this whole trip," said manager Mike Matheny said. "So hopefully they keep doing what they are doing because we know the offense is going to happen, there's no question, but unfortunately we wasted some good opportunities with how those starts went."
 
The Cardinals are 3-6 in their past nine games with each of the nine being decided by two runs or less. They dropped to 11-17 in one-run games Wednesday, tying them for the second most one-run losses in all of baseball.
 
The good news is that they are getting plenty of chances. The bad news is that they are having trouble converting them.
 
"I'm not that disappointed in what's going on," Matheny said. "The effort is still there, guys are still putting tough at-bats together. It's just the results aren't there. It's just that little thing can happen and sometimes it happens in the first inning that we just can't get enough back from.
 
"All and all, if they continue to play as hard as they're playing, with the heart they have, we're going to be fine. We just have to keep playing. These are difficult, there's no question about it."
 
The Cardinals stormed out of the gate and went 14-8 in April. They held the top spot in the National League Central until May 24, when a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies dropped them into second place. They haven't been in first place since.
 
And as the Cardinals continue to skid, the Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates continue to play well. Catching one team is tough. Catching two teams is that much harder.
 
It's time to start get things going, and the Cardinals know it.
 
"I wouldn't call it reason for concern, I'd say reason for a wakeup call," Wainwright said. "There's no doubt in my mind that we can play better ball than we are and we have. We've proven that time and time again, we just have to go out there and prove it again. We can't live on last year, we can't live on the postseason, we can't live on anything else other than just the moment that we're in.
 
"As soon as this team goes out and plays like we're better than everybody, we're going to go out there and play like we're better than everybody. We just have to believe it in our hearts and go out there and execute. I think we've been one click away for a while now and as soon as we get that last gear, we're going to be very dangerous. We just have to go out and get it."
 
Said Lance Berkman, "Fans may be concerned, but we're not concerned. If we're good enough, we're good enough and if we're not, we're not, but I don't think anybody is going to stew over the possibility of not being good enough at this point in the season.
 
"I'm not frustrated. I think we're a good team."
 
The Cardinals may believe they are a good enough team to get back into the postseason. It's about time they start proving it.


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