MILWAUKEE, WI - JULY 17: Lance Berkman #12 of the St Louis Cardinals argues with home plate umpire Brian Gorman #9 after getting ejected from the game in the 7th inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on July 17, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
So a funny thing happened on the way to the top of the NL Central.
For most of the season, the pitching has been a worrisome raincloud hovering over this team. Kind of a cute one, you know? Like an anthropomorphic cartoon rain cloud with a smiley face. Or maybe a frowny face at times. And like sometimes he looks kind of angry and has lightning bolts shooting out of him. You know, 'cause he's mad and storming. But you get the picture. He's a cute cartoon rain cloud who hovers over the Cardinals, occasionally dumping rain on the team, sometimes even tossing a little storm their way, but never with any real malice.
However, a cute anthropomorphic raincloud is still a raincloud, and the pitching has been a raincloud. The bullpen in particular. We've worried over the starters and we've panicked over the relievers. Injuries and ineffectiveness and, um, what's like one step worse than ineffectiveness? I'm going to call it Martedom, sort of like martyrdom, but with Victor Marte. It's still well short of really nasty adjectives like Romeriffic or the state of being referred to as Izzyhood, but Martedom is not exactly the best place to be all the same.
On the other hand, while the bullpen has been busily blowing leads like it was their first sorority mixer and the starters have been doing a really excellent roller coaster impression complete with whoosh sound effects and hands-in-the-air screaming, the offense has been churning out runs at a magnificent pace. It hasn't always been enough to support the pitching staff, mind you; the 'pen in particular has made close games this year more frightening than Tim Curry in clown makeup, but the offense has brought da noise, as well as da funk (my, what outdated references you have, Mr. Schafer), most nights this season.
Ooh, speaking of nights, today happens to be a day game, doesn't it? Well, shit. I suppose I had better make this relatively quick. Day games suck. Particularly when it's roughly eleventy billion degrees outside right now. Ick. Maybe it's cooler in Milwaukee.
Anyhow, the offense has been brilliant, the pitching has been iffy. And then, well, the pitching got pretty good. They've been really good, in fact, here just lately. How good? Well, the Cardinals' pitching staff hasn't surrendered more than 5 runs in a game since the beginning of the Colorado series, a span of (currently), 12 games. That five is all by itself, as well; during this stretch the box scores have featured lots of twos and lots and lots of threes in the opponent's runs scored column. No zeroes, unfortunately, but plenty of the kind of night-in, night-out solidness that generally propels a team up the standings in a slightly boring but remarkably effective way. The kind of solidness that usually indicates an 8-4 kind of stretch. Maybe even 9-3 with a little luck. (Or a well-placed comeback, perhaps against a closer with a mustache.)
Instead of 9-3 in this stretch, however, the Cardinals have managed to go just 6-6, treading the same water they've been treading since the end of April. The culprit? An offense which has suddenly gone cold. In these 12 games we're discussing here, the Cards have scored just 43 runs, a 3.58 per game output. That includes a nine run outburst in the series opener against the Rockies, also; in the eleven games since the Redbirds are averaging just barely over three runs a game.
The biggest letdowns of this offensive cold snap? Carlos Beltran, hitting .162 in this stretch, and Jon Jay (.210), both immediately jump out as slumping. Allen Craig has posted just a .292 on-base percentage since Colorado came to town, but has managed to knock 5 of his 11 hits over that period for extra bases, so he's not struggling quite as badly as the other two.
It's been frustrating, watching this offense struggle. Hot and cold spells are a part of the game, to be sure, but an offense with four -- four! -- regular players who have OPS+ numbers better than 140 just seems like it should be immune to even moderate down cycles. Oh, and that's not to mention Lance Berkman and his 143 OPS+ accumulated in between trips to the knee fairy.
It isn't time to panic about the offense, of course; this is a world-class attack, and will continue to be. Not all the weak nights hitting against a Milwaukee rookie or Randy Wolf's mysterious WTF? pitch (aka the 59 mph curveball), really changes what this offense is. The problem is, the offense has largely had to carry this team for long stretches this year. Even with a strong run of pitching, when the offense disappears (relatively speaking), this just isn't the same team.
The game starts in just over an hour and a half, so I'm going to call this good right here. Enjoy the afternoon, everybody, and let's all hope really hard we aren't talking about yet another series loss for the Cardinals this time tomorrow. Talking about losing is boring, and not much fun at all, honestly.
Did you hear that, Cardinals? Boring and no fun. Stop being those things, right this instant.