What is Wrong with the Cardinals?

This is the question everyone is asking. While there is no clear answer, here is one man's view.

The St. Louis Cardinals are off to a horrid start (7-10, tied for fourth in the NL Central with the Chicago Cubs) in the early going of the 2007 season. The defending champs have looked like anything but defending champs thus far. The Cardinals have looked clueless at the plate for much of their 17 games, they have played mediocre defense, but the pitching staff and bullpen have (for the most part) been consistent.

After Saturday's 6-0 loss to the Cubs, I decided to take a look into unearthing what exactly is wrong with the Cardinals? It's safe to say that the Cardinals' biggest struggles have been on the offensive front and with their gloves. Here is my analysis of what is going on and what needs to be done.


Pitching wins championships - but offense wins games. If a team can't put up runs, obviously they cannot compete. The Cardinals have been absolutely dismal at the plate so far this season, as the team is batting .229 as a whole. It all starts with the position players, so I'll get started with each one, going from the highest batting average to the lowest of the everyday starters.

Chris Duncan (left fielder):
Duncan is off to the best start of any regular on the team. He's batting .321 and is third on the team in at-bats. He has 17 hits, which also leads the team. His three home runs are second on the team, but each of them were towering shots, not line drives that barely escaped over the left field or right field wall.

Duncan has not only been hitting for power, though. He has four doubles and ten singles to go with his three long balls, but the real Chris Duncan comes out in his split stats against righties and lefties. Against righties, Duncan is batting .333 with two home runs, two doubles, but a fairly high total of nine strikeouts. Against left-handers, the Cardinal left fielder is hitting .294 with two doubles, one home run, but only four strikeouts.

The difference is that Duncan only has 17 at-bats against lefties and a much higher total of 36 against right-handed pitchers. Duncan needs to play against lefties more often, because he can not adjust to left-handed pitching unless he faces it on a regular basis. He's the lone bright spot on the team, but even he has started to cool off a bit. He needs to cut down on his 13 strikeouts, but plate discipline will come with more playing time. His .321 on-base percentage is a problem, and I'll address it a little later.

David Eckstein (shortstop):
The 2006 World Series MVP has a huge drop off in production compared to Duncan. Eckstein is batting only .242 with only two extra-base hits (both are doubles) in a team-high 62 at-bats. He has only one strikeout on the season, showing patience at the plate - or is he? Eckstein may have five walks, but there have been several occasions where the Cardinals' shortstop has had the opportunity to draw a walk but has decided to swing the bat instead, producing multiple groundball outs. He has only 15 base hits in those 62 at-bats, and he has a mediocre .313 on-base percentage so far.

On a bright note, he does have two stolen bases. In my opinion, Eckstein is one of many Cardinals hitters who is pressing too much at the plate. He may be trying too hard to reach base via a base hit, rather than taking more walks and waiting on the right pitch. He has quite a few groundball outs and quite a few shallow pop-ups. He has only hit the ball hard a couple of times. Eckstein has good bat speed but lacks power, but right now he is not waiting long enough on the ball.

For most of the Cardinals' hitters, "it" is all in the hands, and it is no different with Eckstein. I feel that Eckstein will be one of the first hitters to come out of their respective slumps because many of the groundballs that Eckstein have hit have been taken away by great defensive plays. Once he gets the ball through a hole, he will start gaining some confidence and realize that he does not have to put so much emphasis in the mental aspect of it, he just needs to let his hands and his instinct take over.

Eckstein is either getting under pitches or hitting them right after defenders when he isn't watching the other team take away a hit, so things will turn around for the St. Louis shortstop before long. It is important that he comes around though, because no leadoff hitter should have a .314 OBP.

Yadier Molina (catcher):
After the '06 playoffs and '07 Spring Training, most thought the young catcher had figured it out at the plate, but a .233 average in 43 at-bats is nothing to brag about. He has done well in situational hitting, unlike most of the rest of the team, but as a catcher who gets one or two days off a week, I can't see him gaining any momentum. Molina's OBP is decent at .365, but that is only as high as it is because he has learned to be more patient at the plate with nine walks in so few at-bats. Molina is the least of my worries right now, because he is not expected to produce on the level of Pujols or Duncan or Rolen. He just needs to continue good defense and hit with RISP.

Preston Wilson (right fielder):
I decided to stick Wilson in as the regular right fielder because he has more at-bats and games played than Scott Spiezio, his platoon partner. This spot is a bit of a moot point, as Juan Encarnacion will likely take over in a few weeks. Wilson has been inconsistent at the plate, batting .209 with a team-leading 14 strikeouts. On the bright side, he has five RBIs and four runs scored. He had a clutch two-run home run on Friday to defeat the Cubs at Wrigley. Wilson is another one of the players I do not worry about, because he is not going to be in right field for long, once Encarnacion comes back.

Jim Edmonds (centerfielder):
Face it. Jim Edmonds is aging, he is not healthy, and he just isn't going to put up great numbers any more. He is just above the Mendoza line with a .205 batting average, but his .273 slugging average is the second worst of the regular position-players. Edmonds is not a fast runner anymore, and he while he has never been a very disciplined hitter at the plate (he swings at a lot of high fastballs), he has declined in that category.

There really is not anything that could make Edmonds the hitter has been in years' past, because he is reaching the end of his career. For Edmonds to improve greatly would be a steep incline that I do not see him making. He needs to be moved down in the lineup, possibly switched with Adam Kennedy. Once he is feeling healthy again, his stats will improve and he can help out the team some, but he is absolutely not going to provide protection for anyone in this lineup.

Albert Pujols (first baseman):
If I told anyone that Albert Pujols would be ranked sixth among starting position players' batting averages through 17 games of the 2007 season, I would have been laughed out of the building - yet here he is, sixth among starters and 11th among the whole team with a .197 batting average. Perhaps the most complex piece of the puzzle that is the Cardinals' offense, Pujols is probably the easiest - yet hardest - to fix. After wondering what could be wrong with the St. Louis slugger and hearing ridiculous rumors such as "Pujols isn't using steroids anymore" or "pitchers have figured him out", I have come to a simple conclusion as to what is wrong with the 2005 MVP.

Pujols has shown flashes of his old self, hitting a team-high four home runs with a team-high nine RBIs and nine walks. Pujols can still hit the ball, and pitchers have not "figured him out." If pitchers could stop him with some kind of pitch, it would have been discovered after his rookie year. The problem with Pujols is not even Pujols himself - it's David Eckstein, Chris Duncan, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Preston Wilson, and Adam Kennedy. Those players' combined .227 batting average and .284 OBP is basically taking the bat out of Pujols' hands.

This is because Pujols is under the most pressure of any player on the team. He is their best player, their MVP, the star, and because of the scrutiny he is always under he probably feels it is his job to carry the team. The other guys having their slumps all at the same time seem to have taken an enormous toll on Albert. He may be pressing way too much and trying to hard to score all the runs on his own, because he has literally no protection in the current lineup.

There are only two things to prevent Pujols having a horrible year. One is to have the current lineup start hitting the ball and take the pressure off of him. Right now, I'd give Pujols a day off so he can sort of gather his thoughts and let the lineup perform without waiting on Pujols to do everything for them. The second option is to find a big bat to put in the lineup with Pujols to make it where the pressure is not all on him. Until one of those two things happens, Pujols isn't going to start hitting like the Pujols of old.

Scott Rolen (third baseman):
.196 batting average, .245 OBP, nine strikeouts, one home run. Scott Rolen is simply in a slump, and that is all there is to it. His timing is off, his bat speed is off, his confidence seems down. Everything is going wrong for Rolen, but because of that, everything is going wrong for Albert Pujols. He's not providing any protection for Pujols batting behind him because Rolen isn't even getting on base. He just simply needs to get rolling with a few base hits and gain some momentum and confidence. Until he does, the rest of the lineup is going to suffer. Rolen is batting cleanup, but because of his poor job at the plate thus far, he has nothing to actually clean up. Hitting coach Hal McRae needs to work with Rolen as soon as possible and get his mechanics and timing back where they need to be.

Adam Kennedy (second baseman):
Kennedy is not really a key part of the offense, mainly because he bats in the lower part of the lineup and does not play every day. Unfortunately, he is batting .190 and has a horrible .209 OBP when he does play. He has one stolen base and one triple, showing a bit of speed, and so far he has been hitting the ball hard - just right to the other team. He needs to work on hitting more singles and doubles and stop swinging for the fences so often. It seems like a lot of his outs are deep fly balls and line drives to the outfield. If those would fall into the gaps, it wouldn't be a problem, but none of them are, so he needs to focus a little bit more on going the other way and just reaching base more often.

Overall, the team is having trouble hitting left handers. In fact, they are batting only .208 against lefties, while hitting a less-than-respectable .242 against right-handers. It's a team-wide slump that will be corrected with time and a few moves.


The Cardinals have had a respectable defense in recent years, but so far the team is not fielding the ball as well as they could. There are 12 errors so far, two of those coming from usually-reliable shortstop David Eckstein. Two more belong to right fielder Preston Wilson, but perhaps the most embarrassing error belongs to first baseman Albert Pujols, who dropped a throw on a groundball which should have been an easy out. The ball simply fell out of his glove, something one would not normally see from Pujols. Catcher Yadier Molina had an error as well, although he has been himself in most of the games. Second baseman Adam Kennedy, backup second baseman Aaron Miles, left fielder Chris Duncan, backup left fielder So Taguchi, and backup right fielder Skip Schumaker all have one each.

Early in the season, there were a few misplayed balls in the outfield at Busch Stadium that were blamed on the bright lights atop the stadium. This has not been a problem since, but I wonder if the Cardinals' overall mental approach to each game is altered due to their struggles at the plate. It could be a critical distraction every day. After a promising inning is ended with an untimely double play, it could take a toll on the players when the get ready to go back to their positions in the next half inning.

The biggest bright spot on the Cardinals team is Chris Duncan, who did have one error but has also made several stunning plays in left field. Fans no longer hold their breath on routine fly balls to left, because Duncan has become at least an average outfielder now. At best, he will be above average, but for now, he is doing just fine. Eckstein and Pujols are the two most unlikely of those with errors because of their traditional great production at their respective positions.

This is basically the same team as last year with the addition of Adam Kennedy, an above-average second baseman. With Jim Edmonds in center (he can still play great defense, aging and hurt or not), Scott Rolen at third, Albert Pujols at first, Adam Kennedy at second, David Eckstein at shortstop, and Yadier Molina behind the plate, the defense will be fine. Preston Wilson and Duncan are not expected to be great defenders, but Duncan is doing ok and Wilson will be replaced by Encarnacion in the near future.

Brady Holzhauer can be reached via email at sportswriter5@gmail.com.

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