I’m not alarmed by the Cardinals losing six of their last eight games. That’s going to happen, even to World Series champions at times. Even the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 regular-season games and a record 125 overall, lost six of eight between Aug. 19-26. That’s part of the deal. You’re generally going to win 60 and lose 60, and it’s the other 42 that make or break you.
That being said, I am alarmed by the drop-off in starting pitching. During this eight-game stretch, the Cardinals have only gotten two quality starts, both by Adam Wainwright. The rest of the rotation has given the Cardinals just 26 2/3 innings in six starts, an average of just over 4 1/3 per outing. In those six games, Cardinal starters have an ERA of 9.11.
Those are numbers that spell doom for any club, regardless of whether they lead a league in runs or fielding. While it’s alarming that the offense has been able to generate at least three runs in just half of those games (the Cards are 7-25 when they score three or fewer runs, 42-7 when they score more than three), sterling starting pitching is why the Cardinals maintained the best record in baseball for most of the first half.
Shelby Miller went at least 5 2/3 innings in 11 of his first 13 starts, and 5 1/3 in the other two. He’s failed to make it past five in each of his last three starts. He needs to get back to being at least a six-inning pitcher. That’s not too much to ask of a major league pitcher whose team just reached the halfway point.
We can give Jake Westbrook a break for his first game back after missing more than a month because of an elbow injury. And his first game back was not good. After a seven-inning, one-run effort against the Cubs, Westbrook has gone 10 innings and allowed 10 runs, 14 hits and 18 baserunners in losses to Houston and Oakland. As bad, he gave up 3-0 and 5-2 leads to the A’s. Westbrook’s job is simply to give the Cardinals innings and a chance to win. He’s done that once in four starts since returning from the disabled list.
After turning in quality starts in nine of his first 12 starts, Lance Lynn has delivered one in his last four games. Although he’s averaged 6 1/3 innings in those four, his ERA is 5.84 in that span.
Wainwright has been brilliant, Tyler Lyons is back in Memphis and Joe Kelly has yet to take his spot in the rotation. It’s imperative that Miller, Westbrook and Lynn be better than they have in their last four turns through the rotation. If the Cardinals are going to maintain their excellence, it’s going to start and end with their starting pitching. If they’re going to end this slump, they better pitch.
A couple of other interesting notes about the Cardinals:
*In this stretch of losing six of eight, they’ve scored first in every game. They were 36-13 when scoring first, but now they are 38-19.
*For all of their power, the Cards are now just 1-24 when they trail after seven innings. Usually really good teams like this one will come back more than that. For comparison’s sake, Sunday was Pittsburgh’s eighth win when trailing after seven innings; they are now 8-25 in such situations. Boston, with the best record in the American League, has come back four times when trailing after seven. Also of note is that the Cardinals have lost four games when leading after seven – primarily a product of Mitchell Boggs’ struggles when he was up – but Pittsburgh and Boston have each lost only two when leading after seven.
*The Cardinals’ last dozen games before the All Star Break are against some of the worst teams in baseball – they have three against the Angels, then come home for three against Miami, two against Houston and four against the Cubs. If the Cardinals don’t fix what ails them before July 15, the second half of the season could be troublesome for the Cards, with as hot as Pittsburgh is.