In a baseball season that relies on small sample sizes to make large-scale judgements, the St. Louis Cardinals are struggling.
In a two-game sweep at Minnesota Twins earlier this week, neither Cardinals starter managed to pitch four innings. Carlos Martínez seemed rattled during his start on Tuesday, with an errant pickoff throw to second base in the first inning and allowed two home runs in his outing. Martínez would go on to yield six runs in just 3 2/3 innings, his first start since the 2018 season. Tyler O’Neill provided a two-run homer in the fifth inning, but the rest of the offense never showed up.
Daniel Ponce de Leon turned in an impressive performance in game two of the series, striking out eight in nearly four innings. Some questionable umpiring took away what would have been an inning-ending strikeout for Ponce de Leon in the fourth and instead produced an RBI single after he was lifted. In all, the 28 year-old right-hander allowed just three runs on two hits while recording eight strikeouts and three walks.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) July 30, 2020
Minnesota went on to sweep the Cardinals in the two games by a combined score of 9-3.
The Bullpen Stayed Strong
Despite their increased workload, the Cardinals relief corps turned in a spectacular performance. In 8 2/3 innings, the club allowed no runs on three hits and struck out seven batters. With a 30-man roster in effect, St. Louis continued to utilize many of its arms, including Ryan Helsley, Austin Gomber and Kodi Whitley, among others. Right-hander Giovanny Gallegos also made his first appearance since being added to the active roster on Tuesday. Gallegos had been late to the Cardinals’ summer camp after a delay in returning from his home in Mexico.
Overall, the bullpen’s performance proves that the Cardinals can compete with their opponents on any given night. St. Louis came into the series with the third-best ERA among relievers after MLB’s opening weekend. Having a bullpen that keeps them within striking distance will be a luxury, something many teams have not shown thus far in the season. Should the Cards find themselves in higher leverage situations in a coming series, their pitchers will be ready for the task.
The Pitching Controlled A Monster Lineup
It’s been well-established that the Minnesota Twins are a club of professional hitters. From top to bottom, every batter in their lineup requires visitors’ above-average efforts to retire. Consider then that the Cardinals gave up six runs on Tuesday and just three on Tuesday. That’s a reason for major confidence. While Mike Schildt undoubtedly wished for more length from his starters, staying in control of a powerful lineup qualifies as a minor victory. For middle-relievers, the mental game can be just as important as pitch execution, and Cardinal pitchers were up to the task in this series. Time and again St. Louis has established itself as a team with pitching depth, which is something they will need to utilize following Miles Mikolas’ season-ending injury. They can’t get much better than 8 2/3 with zero runs allowed, but that could need to become the norm with the Cardinals’ struggling offense.
The Offensive Holes Were Ugly
The Minnesota Twins manufactured themselves as a playoff team. Their lineup is the stuff of a video game, and their bullpen is filled with lockdown relievers. That being said, the Cardinals could not have asked for better on-paper matchups against the Twins’ Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Both men reside in the back of the rotation, both own careers that have continued beyond their prime and both are okay-but-not-great pitchers. St. Louis was unable to muster any meaningful offense in the series sweep, scoring three runs in 11 innings against the pair. And as a recap: Harrison Bader is now one-for-11 in his first four games. Kolten Wong is 0 for his last 10 at the plate. Even Paul Goldschmidt had one of only three St. Louis hits in Wednesday night’s contest. Maybe the sky isn’t falling, though it certainly feels like it to seasoned Cardinals fans.
At this point, St. Louis and John Mozeliak have committed to the players on their roster. Maybe Lane Thomas will shock the world and become the next Ronald Acuña Jr. Perhaps Dylan Carlson will be called up soon, like he should have been at the season’s start. Whatever the case, Mike Schildt can’t be content with any players in his lineup that struggle at the plate. The season is already almost 10 percent over. The time for offensive improvements was this offseason. That time has passed. For the Cardinals to contend and give their fan base a winning product, the club has to be aggressive. That’s the only way anyone will make it out of the four-headed NL Central.
What’s Ahead for St. Louis
After the two-game sweep to Minnesota, the Cardinals have lost three straight and sit at a record of 2-3. The team’s next series begins on Friday in Milwaukee, where the club will face the Brewers before they travel onto Detroit. Jack Flaherty will take the mound for the Cardinals to open Friday’s series.
Featured Image Courtesy of AP Photo
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