With a sub-.500 record and third-place position in the struggling National League Central Division, manager Mike Matheny and Co. are at a midseason crossroads.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in unfamiliar territory.
With a sub-.500 record (31-37) and third-place position in the struggling National League Central Division entering Tuesday, manager Mike Matheny and Co. are in what’s best described as a midseason crisis.
A crossroads, if you will.
After claiming a 21-15 record on May 14, the Cardinals have experienced a destructive 10-22 lapse.
The Cardinals’ season has been marred by shaky starting pitching (5.76 ERA in past 25 games), flawed defensive play (41 errors, sixth-most in NL this season) and an inconsistent offense (12th of 15 NL teams with 292 total runs), which despite its struggles has come to life as of late thanks to hot streaks by Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler.
The demotion of third-base coach Chris Maloney and release of infielder Jhonny Peralta earlier this month was meant to send a wakeup call to the club, but a 5-5 record since that time makes you wonder if that message was fully received.
With that being said, the Cards remain just five games behind the first-place Brewers and 3 ½ behind the reigning rival Cubs. Is there is still time for the Cardinals to turn the ship around and return to the playoffs? For October 2017 to matter in St. Louis, positive turnaround must happen fast.
While the club’s current struggles come in a variety of forms, including the lack of a true heart-of-the-order power threat and continual maddening mental miscues, the resurgence of the club must start with the starting pitching.
Through the first 43 games of the season, Cardinals starting pitchers maintained the best earned run average (3.00) in all of baseball.
Since May 25, it’s been a downward spiral. The Cards starting five have a collective ERA of nearly six in the past 25 games, worse than all but one other squad in the National League.
As you might expect, the Cardinals have won just eight of those 25 games.
Opening Day starter Carlos Martinez (6-5, 2.86 ERA) has served as an anchor for the staff and is an exception to the problem. Four of his past five outings have been quality starts, and he’s maintained a 2.21 ERA during that time frame while averaging at least seven innings each time out.
The rest of the St. Louis rotation — Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha — needs to follow his lead.
Including one start by Marco Gonzales, the other starters have a combined ERA of 7.09 in their past 20 games while averaging less than five innings per start.
Wacha’s spot in the rotation is under internal question as his ERA in his past eight starts is 8.86. Wainwright, meanwhile, has surrendered 20 earned runs in his past 10 1/3 innings.
These are trends that simply cannot continue.
If the current crew can’t correct its course, help could come from the Triple-A level in the form of Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty or Gonzales.
Maybe Wacha could be sent to the bullpen for an audition as a reliever to clear room for an emerging starter.
Or perhaps general manager John Mozeliak needs to pull the trigger on a move to stabilize his arms.
That is, if Mozeliak still thinks this team has what it takes to make a playoff run this year.
If Mozeliak puts his focus on 2018 and beyond, Lynn, who will be a free agent after the season, is viable trade bait. He has a respectable 6-5 mark with a 3.33 ERA but was shelled four seven earned runs, including four home runs, during an 8-5 loss Sunday at Baltimore.
Closer Seung Hwan Oh, a bright spot in the struggling ‘pen that has the ninth-highest ERA (4.67) in the majors, could be on the market if the team wants to make a change.
And reliever Trevor Rosenthal (3.51 ERA in 25 2/3 innings) is of value to other clubs, especially given he is under team control through next season.
Unlike previous seasons, there is hardly anyone on the Cardinals roster who is off limits to a potential move.
Something has to change.