Four games ago, the St. Louis Cardinals were probably feeling pretty good about themselves. After winning six of their last seven games in a span that saw them sweep the Astros, take two of three from division leading Cincinnati, and then hold off the Pirates, a team they’re currently battling with for the second Wild Card spot, in the first game of that series. They were a season-high 14 games over .500 after accomplishing all of that, and you wouldn’t have been met with a lot of opposition if you projected them to roll right into September fresh off their recent winning ways.
Then lots of bad baseball started happening. In the four subsequent games after the season’s high point, the Cardinals have been shut-out three times. They’ve scored all of one run combined, and it didn’t even result in an RBI. The opposition, twice being the Pirates and twice being the admittedly very good Nationals, has pounded St. Louis pitching to the tune of 32 runs. Yes, that’s what I wrote. In a four-game span of games, the Cardinals have been outscored 32-1. The Astros would be hard-pressed to put a stretch like that together, friends. This is starting to approach record-setting material.
The weirdest part of this situation is that the Cardinals have shown one of the game’s more productive offenses to this point in the 2012 season. Going into last night’s 10-0 loss against the Nationals (the game that dropped them to a plus-96 run differential; that total was at plus-127 at the start of the day on August 28), the team still ranked second in the National League with a .767 OPS and first in runs scored with 633. That’s after three games of mind-numbing lack-of-production, mind you, and now you can tack a fourth one on that list as well.
How is it, exactly, that a team, any team, can ever be this bad? Well, it’s not easily accomplished, even in a four-game sample size, but the culprits here are numerous. Angry fans — of which I am one, by the way, although I’m doing my best to remain neutral for this article — could point their quivering fingers at any number of players on both sides of the ball. Feel like blaming the starting rotation? Good idea! The four pitchers that have taken the ball in these four losses have, after all, managed to work all of 18 innings collectively, combining to surrender 24 of those 32 runs. They’ve also combined to surrender 37 hits and walk 12 batters while striking out only 10. That’s simply an awful turn through the rotation, and the only member exempt from this catastrophe (so far) is Kyle Lohse, who will get the ball today and attempt to have an outing that doesn’t reduce manager Mike Matheny to tears in the dugout. Granted, the bullpen wasn’t all that great either. It’s tough to ask your relief unit to shoulder 14 innings in four games, but giving up eight runs in that sample size does not exactly constitute acing the assignment.
Then there’s the offensive side of the equation. When a team gets shut-out three times in four games, it’s pretty clear that no one at all is hitting. As a team, the Cardinals have managed to hit 2-20 with runners in scoring position the last four contests while stranding 23 men on base. Key players were eerily silent: offensive catalyst Matt Holliday now finds himself mired in a 1-14 slump, Carlos Beltran has a .694 OPS in the second half, and even Allen Craig interrupted his breakout season to go 1-16 during this still ongoing losing streak. At least leadoff hitter Jon Jay was somewhat respectable in hitting .250 (3-12) with four walks, but that’s about the only positive thing that can be said about the entire offense of late.
It’s not often any team goes through a streak of games that are of this caliber, and the results are starting to become fascinating. Just as Hurricane Isaac wreaked havoc in the New Orleans area a few days ago, the Cardinals find themselves contending with a disaster of their own: the perfect storm of awful baseball that traveled with them from Pittsburgh to the nation’s capital. When it abides, what will the casualty count reach, and will the Cardinals’ playoff hopes be among them, buried somewhere in the rubble? Considering the team’s ever-weakening grip on the newly instated second Wild Card berth, it’s a question worth asking.