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Hochman: Cardinals’ decision-makers must be proactive to avoid another June swoon

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Dallas Keuchel, who has been designated for assignment by the White Sox, could help the pitching-short Cardinals.

Surely the Cardinals organization is haunted by the trip to Los Angeles last October.

But they also should be haunted by the trip to LA last May.

That series extended into June, and symbolically so, because the effects of that rough series made June even rougher.

Starter Jack Flaherty injured his oblique and starter Carlos Martinez flamed out in an outing that didn’t last an inning. Soon after, starter Kwang Hyun Kim suffered a back injury.

And from there, the Cards pressed the wrong buttons. They didn’t act quickly enough on acquiring starting help. The starters they had pitched fewer innings than planned, while the relievers pitched more. The burdened bullpen burnt out. The Cardinals went 10-17 in June 2021. Avoid that swoon and maybe they avoid the wild-card game, which, of course, they lost in Los Angeles.

Well, here we go again.

Starters Steven Matz and Jordan Hicks are on the injured list.

St. Louis has eight games in the next seven days.

And Packy Naughton is starting Monday against the 30-17 Padres. Naughton’s spot comes up again on Saturday — oh, and there’s a second game that day that needs a starter, too.

With memories of last year’s May-to-June week, the Cardinals’ decision-makers must be on their toes as the calendar flips this year. Yes, every move means a corresponding move. But it would behoove the Birds to look at available starting pitching, even if it’s for the short term.

Naturally, the list is short. Brett Anderson is intriguing. He knows the division — he pitched for Milwaukee the past two seasons. And Dallas Keuchel is a desired name from previous years in this column space. Now, this version of Keuchel isn’t as enticing — after all, he was just designated for assignment by the White Sox. But a new pitching coach and league and lease on his baseball life could rejuvenate the great southpaw. It would likely only cost the league minimum. Maybe there’s a trade option, too? 

So, think back to spring training, when the talk was about the Cards’ strong rotation. Imagine if someone had said: Heading into June, the rotation will be Miles Mikolas, Packy Naughton, Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson and Matthew Liberatore.

And think about how many other starter options it took this year to even get to this point?

This current rotation doesn’t seem sustainable for the coming weeks. And even though Flaherty is throwing to live to batters this week, that doesn’t guarantee a return date. And, as we know, someone else could get injured by that point.

The Cardinals will, as they do, consider in-house options. Jake Woodford has good stuff. But the point is — this is the season the Cardinals must over-compensate for holes. Reason No. 1 is those very same holes were responsible for why the Cards didn’t finish higher in 2021. Reason No. 2 is this team needs to emerge in this division this year, and so, that means taking action.

Beyond the League Division Series, the Cardinals haven’t won a game since 2014. This year, you’ve got Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. And you have Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina in their final seasons. This red-colored confluence begs the front office to fuel this club accordingly. Figure it out.

Meanwhile, on a sunny Sunday at Busch, Mikolas pitched … and pitched. He threw an eye-popping, career-high 115 pitches in the loss. He allowed six runs in an 8-0 loss to the Brewers. His ERA jumped from 1.96 to 2.67.

“We needed him to cover six (innings) today, and that was our hope going into it,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, who indeed got six out of his starter. “And so, we let him face a couple extra hitters there and try to finish the game with just using two guys in (Nick) Wittgren and (TJ) McFarland.”

That’s how taxed the bullpen was heading into Sunday.

And now, heading into Monday, the Cardinals have the eight games in seven days before a day off. How many non-quality-starts can this staff currently afford? And that’s before the Cards make an addition (if the Cards make an addition).

But the Redbirds have a blueprint. They saw how everything unraveled last year at this time. There are lessons to carry into this season.

Of course, we’ve yet to mention the offense. None of this matters if the boys don’t score more. Sunday’s lineup looked more like a spring training lineup, be it because of injuries or set off-days for players such as Arenado.

But the Cards were shut out. In their last eight losses, the Cardinals have averaged just 2.3 runs. But there are some optimistic offensive stats, be it that even with so many underachievers, they’re still seventh in the National League in OPS. And they’re third in run differential.

So, here comes a new page on the calendar, a new canvas for the Cardinals. This June must be better than last year’s June. It starts with decisions in late May.

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