The Cardinals Flip Flop in May

cardsI don’t watch horror or suspense movies. I’m not big on being scared or losing control of bodily functions. So I can’t say that this season for St. Louis has been like one of those movies from personal experience, but knowing the general formula for a movie of that type, the analogy seems to fit.

CHICAGO - APRIL 22: Albert Pujols # 5 of the S...
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After a promising April, which saw the Cardinals sit at 16-7 and on top of the NL Central by 3 ½ games, everything was right with the world. Albert Pujols was mashing, the four outfielders were rotating in and out and being productive, third base was covered by Rookie of the Month Brian Barden and equally effective Joe Thurston, and the starting rotation was keeping the team in games. About the only flaw was the bullpen, which had a nasty habit of spontaneously combusting like they had in 2008.

So after this bright and sunny month, Cardinal Nation was feeling good. Then it entered the small, dilapidated house known as May and the horror began.

Through May 19, the Cardinals are 6-10. That comfy lead has vanished and the Redbirds trail in the division by three games, though they are still tied for second. The offense that averaged 5.8 runs per game in April has plummeted to 3.5 in May. The pitching staff that had a combined ERA of 3.65 in the first month is at 4.82 in the second, and that latter number comes after Joel Pineiro threw a complete-game shutout.

Busch Stadium has been the Cardinals home sinc...
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The biggest news over the last month has been injuries. Chris Carpenter pulled his oblique muscle back in April and was out an extended period of time. Rick Ankiel thought he was Superman as he ran head-on into the Busch Stadium wall, requiring a DL stint. Ryan Ludwick pulled a hamstring going after a ball which forced him onto the disabled list as well.

With Ankiel and Ludwick down, coupled with the season-long absence of Troy Glaus, over 50% of 2008’s offense was sitting on the bench. Without Pujols, who has struggled some (for him) since Ankiel went down, the offense would be in even worse shape than it is.

On the mound, the starters stopped giving quality outings about the same time the bullpen finally flipped the switch and became effective. Todd Wellemeyer has had a couple of strong outings, but when he’s gone bad, he’s gone real bad and unfortunately that’s been the more likely result of him taking the ball.

Adam Wainwright looked nothing like the ace he was expected to be. For a while, his command issues and large numbers of hits allowed didn’t come into play as he was able to work out of jams. However, the law of averages says that couldn’t continue indefinitely and he was rocked for seven runs in six innings against Philadelphia and four in six against Cincinnati to start the month.

When the Cardinals have gotten a lead in the late innings, though, Ryan Franklin has been there to lock it down. Franklin has nailed down nine saves, only blowing one (a game the Cardinals came back to win) and has allowed only two runs (both in the blown save) all year long. Whether this is an adjustment he has made to the closing role after last season’s shaky performance or a case where the teams will eventually hit him remains to be seen, but the results are positive at the moment.

Chris Carpenter
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This horrific month did come with a silver lining, the possibility that there was hope on the other side of the door.  Starting with Joel Pineiro’s start on May 19, the Cardinals put on an exceptional show of pitching.  The entire team posted a 0.95 ERA during the seven game span ending on Memorial Day with Chris Carpenter working on a perfect game before the Cards lost in extra innings 1-0.  Pineiro threw a shutout and two other games were combined shutouts.  The worst game in this stretch was a three-run, seven-inning performance by Pineiro, which was good enough to be among the best of the month before this stretch.

The suspense is still there, though.  The Cardinals still have not scored on a regular basis and have lost the last two games in this pitching stretch.  The offense has to come around or there will be more months like May.  Here’s hoping this horror movie doesn’t have a sequel.

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