SAN DIEGO — With a series of pointed comments made this past week, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt sought to deflect and redirect the view of the club through a new lens, not one with a reddish hue but one focused on the things his players do well.
He did not mean for the lens to be binoculars as the positives receded from view this weekend and the Cardinals’ biggest flaw persisted as a gnarly, immovable eyesore.
The Cardinals reached the midpoint of the season Saturday as a losing team, with a 40-41 record and an offense that’s become an anchor dragging them deeper into an abyss. Tommy Edman, San Diego native, led off the game with a home run and then the Cardinals’ lineup flat-lined as the Padres scored 11 unanswered runs for an ugly, brutish 12-2 victory. The Cardinals lost their fifth consecutive game, their second consecutive series, and have a concerning record that demands action. The lineup has gone from problematic to profoundly troublesome. This is the new lens: Their offensive issues are kaleidoscopic.
“Says we’re an average team. That’s what the record says,” manager Mike Shildt said. “That’s basically what .500 is. At the end of the day, it’s mediocrity, and that’s not ultimately acceptable. We know we’re better. And we will be better. Actions speak louder than words. I don’t know what beyond that I can say. We’ve got to start acting like it.”
Manny Machado and Franmil Reyes became the first Padres’ teammates to hit two home runs apiece in the same game at Petco Park. They each homered off of Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson and reliever Daniel Ponce de Leon, whose excellence may have saved the Cardinals from a threadbare bullpen Sunday. Padres starter Chris Paddack held the Cardinals to one run, Edman’s homer, through six innings. At the end of his start the Cardinals had two hits.
The Padres had 10 runs at that point.
It’s taken the Cardinals a week to score that many.
• BOX SCORE: Padres 12, Cardinals 2
• STANDINGS: Cards 4 back in NL Central
Edman’s homer – the first leadoff shot by a Cardinals rookie since Bo Hart in 2003 – gave the Cardinals their first RBI from a position player since Tuesday. They have scored three runs in their previous 34 innings. Paddack struck out eight, and the Cardinals struck out a dozen times total. They had only two at-bats in the first six innings with a runner in scoring position.
“Leadoff homer, then don’t scratch again until (the eighth inning),” Shildt said. “Twelve strikeouts. Just not enough good at-bats. It just makes you look flat. We’ve got to figure out a way to be better. We’ve got to score some runs to give ourselves a better chance to shake hands at the end of the game.”
During two interviews in the past week, Shildt has acknowledged the deficit on offense, while also suggesting the team has done something superbly well – like baserunning and defense. While May was a disaster in the standings, June hasn’t been in large part because those positives Shildt mentioned have masked a stubbornly poor offense. The Cardinals’ 87 runs in June are the fewest in the National League, and are almost 20 fewer than the next-closest club. Every other team in the NL Central has averaged at least one more run a day – a day! – than the Cardinals this month. The Cardinals’ .226 average in June was last in the majors. Their .288 on-base percentage this month is last in the NL. Their .364 slugging percentage in June? Last in the majors. With Marcell Ozuna on the injured list with a fractured finger as of Saturday, the Cardinals don’t have an everyday player with a slugging percentage better than .500.
Up until Lane Thomas arrived 10 minutes before game time Saturday, Edman was the only player on the roster with a batting average better than .300.
The June gloom has been doom.
“It’s a real issue,” Shildt said. “We’ve got to solve it. It’s an issue. There’s no question about it. We all get it. The more it happens, the more people press. We’re working. We’re talking. We’re doing what we can to figure it out. We’re not just going through the motions on this deal, at all. We’re just right now not in the place where we can put anything together offensively. What changes to make? We’ve already made a few changes. Can we make more? There’s always changes we can make.”
Shildt has rewritten the top of the lineup, moved Paul Goldschmidt from No. 3 in the order to No. 2 in the order to cleanup on Saturday, and he’s given former All-Star Matt Carpenter most of this series away from the lineup. Still, the expanded strike zones, strikeouts, and anxious at-bats speak to a team uncertain about its offense.
After Edman’s homer, San Diego tied the game on a groundout in the second inning. Hudson (6-4) hit the first batter of the second inning, walked the next batter, and then things really went sideways on the righthander. He had a groundball back to him that could have been the handle to reclaim the inning. Instead of a double play ball with a runner on third and Paddack up (5-4), Hudson bobbled the ball. His throw was wide to second. The Padres had the bases loaded and now outs. Paddack got his first career RBI on a groundout to tie the game, 1-1, and two more singles put the Padres ahead, 3-1.
The eighth batter of the inning finally got the ball out of the infield – all the way over the wall. One back-to-back pitches Machado and Reyes hit homers. Machado’s three-run shot gave the Padres’ a 6-1 lead. Reyes’ tagged Hudson with seven runs – as many as he had allowed in his previous five games combined, all of them wins by the Cardinals. His throwing error was the genesis of the rally, meaning six of the runs were unearned, but not undeserved.
“Gave a good team, a good lineup, too many outs,” said Hudson, who was pulled after Reyes’ homer and threw only 1 2/3 innings. “I was struggling to find it early. Gave up a couple of weak hits. That led to a long inning. Led to a couple of mistakes. Which led to a couple of good swings.”
Into that breach came Ponce de Leon. Impressive every time the Cardinals have called on him this season, Ponce de Leon finished the second inning and absorbed enough of the game to save the bullpen for the series finale on Sunday.
He threw 5 1/3 innings and became the first Cardinal to have at least nine strikeouts in relief since Al Hrabosky had nine in September 1974.
At Petco Park, the scoreboard offers a “Fun Fact” tidbit for every hitter, and they range from Goldschmidt’s claim to have watched the movie “Billy Madison” at least 100 times to Kolten Wong insisting he’s accurate with a blowdart. One “Fun Fact” that didn’t reach the board: Halfway through the season, the Cardinals have yet to beat a National League team on the road in their “victory” blue Saturday uniforms. Another one: It takes runs to win.
The Cardinals have had a losing record at the midway point only one other time since 2007, and that was 2017. Only four times since 2000 have the Cardinals had a losing record 81 games into the season. They haven’t had it happen twice in the span of three seasons since 1997-99, when all three seasons greeted them at the midpoint with a losing record.
Changing their record means changing results.
Changing results means changing their offense.
Changing the offense sends a message.
How does a manager convey that impatience?
“I understand the question. Completely, clearly something different has to happen,” Shildt said. “I’m not going to beat on people who are giving everything they’ve got. … We’ve had our conversations in the group. They’re competing and just not getting it done. Do I feel like I need to go in there and turn the (food) spread over to do something different? That would be insulting to this group and their professionalism. We have to be better offensively.
“There’s always more we can do.”