QUESTION: What do you make of the inconsistency of the Cardinals offense lately?
This is the bad part of what is a python attack — feast occasionally, then lie around almost immobile for several days. The Cards again appear overly reliant on HR’s. They’re down several LH bats (Lance Berkman, Skip Schumaker, who came off the DL today, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter) and are struggling to hit .250 this month. Rafael Furcal’s slump has reduced the club’s first-strike ability. Matt Holliday emerged this weekend from a power fade but remains a health riddle. Recent juggling of Yadier Molina underscores concern. A lineup that looked “long” exiting spring training has shortened. Regaining important pieces is a necessity.
It is another in a line of examples of how depth is great – but only as a complement to a lineup, not as a replacement. The Cardinals erratic offense shows how one slump (Freese for one, but especially and mostly Furcal’s) can derail a lineup. With Jon Jay in there, the Cardinals have an alternate source of OBP. With Schumaker available, there is an alternate leadoff hitter. With Berkman around, there is a high average hitter with the threat of power. With none of them available, the weight of the offense falls on fewer players who can’t possibly remain hot enough at the plate to maintain the consistency.
That leaves the Cardinals to bank on the rapid acclimation of a youngster (i.e. Matt Adams), the continued emergence of a budding bat (i.e. Allen Craig), or the continued surge of a vet (see: Beltran, Carlos). It’s too much to expect a few bats to carry the lineup for this long, and even if they do they can’t put up six runs alone. That’s why it’s so erratic. They need help. Help is on the DL.
The Cardinals’ offense is missing too many key parts to be consistently effective. It is absent two .300 hitters in Jon Jay and Lance Berkman, plus a .300-hitting reserve in Skip Schumaker and a productive utilityman in Matt Carpenter.
LARRY BOROWSKY (Editor of the “Viva El Birdos 2012 Baseball Annual”)
The lineup has gotten precariously short – not enough guys are getting on base to string big innings together. Rafael Furcal is batting .143 in June, with only 2 walks and 1 extra-base hit. David Freese’s on-base percentage this month is just .303, and he’s also got just 2 walks (against 19 strikeouts). The two second basemen (Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso) have a combined June OBP of just .272; and the centerfielders (Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson) have a cumulative .319 OBP for the month. The same thing happened (in more severe fashion) toward the end of 2010, when the Cardinal offense consisted of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and seven easy outs.
Skip Schumaker and Matt Carpenter should provide some help as they return within the next few days, and Holliday (as per his career-long pattern) is warming up with the weather; those are all positive indicators. But Furcal needs to get going again, and the whole team needs to reclaim the disciplined approach that worked so well for them in April and May.
The lack of consistency probably begins with the recent slump of lead-off hitter Rafael Furcal. Essentially, the Cardinals are lacking table-setters right now, which would possibly include Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker and Matt Carpenter if they were healthy.
The Cardinals have had important people in and out of the lineup over many weeks, that is not insignificant. They are striking out too much and they depend too much on the home run.
There are quite a few rally killers in their lineup. That is, they rank third in the National League in grounding into double plays and seventh in the league in strikeouts. They leave more runners on base per game than 13 other MLB teams.
But offense is cyclical. I would be less worried about their offense than their pitching.
I think the problem is you’ve got inconsistent players. Yesterday’s starting lineup had just three consistently good offensive players, Beltran, Holliday and Craig. Everybody else is inconsistent. (Molina is consistent, but wasn’t playing.) As you get more consistent players back, the offense will do better, but four consistent players isn’t enough to get it done. And they don’t have to be Matt Holliday caliber players. Jon Jay caliber would be good. Getting David Freese back to a consistent level would also help. The Cards just aren’t getting enough at-bats from good offensive players.
Some of the inconsistency can be explained by players coming and going from the lineup and players changing places in the batting order. But a bigger concern is key hitters running hot and cold. Furcal cooled off lately, for instance. Beltran has been through extremes. Ditto Holliday. Jay cooled off after trying to play hurt. Greene has been hot and largely cold as a part-time player. So at any given time how many hot and healthy players did Mike Matheny really have? Some days the stars aligned and the team crushed the ball. And some days, like Sunday, they went hours without scoring.