Looking Hard for Cardinal Optimism

The St. Louis Cardinals continue to struggle in the 2007 season, with interleague play a particular challenge. But, the reality is that none of it looks very good.

It is quite clear that the St. Louis Cardinals are in the midst of a most dreadful stretch of baseball, having lost seven of their last nine, dropping to eight games below .500 in the process (28-36). Finding something positive and sincere to say has been a real challenge.

They have a losing record at home (14-16) as well as on the road (14-20). They are under water against the National League (24-26) and have especially struggled in interleague play, with a 2-8 record against the American League. That AL mark is 7-18 when last season is included.

Friday night against the Oakland A's, it seemed almost pre-ordained that former Cardinal Danny Haren would add further misery to his ex-club's season. Yet, there was a glimmer of hope when the visitors from St. Louis went out on top by three runs. It didn't last long, however, as Braden Looper and the bullpen sunk into the Bay.

The desperation move of calling on infielder/outfielder Scott Spiezio to pitch Friday's final inning underscored just how dire the situation has become. He came on after the Raiders, I mean A's, had scored two touchdowns to the Cards' single field goal.

The facts do not lie. The Cards have been booted around big-time recently, allowing 29 runs in their last two games, 42 runs over four games and 67 in their last seven games.

Their team ERA has swelled to 5.15, worst in the 16-team NL by almost 10% compared the next poorest club. In fact, only two teams in the designated hitter-laden AL have a worse team ERA than St. Louis.

After Looper's showing Friday night, the Cards starters' ERA grew to 5.59, again poorest in the NL, this time by over half a run per game. In all of MLB, only the woeful Texas Rangers have a less productive starting staff in terms of earned runs allowed.

With all the extra work due to the starters' struggles, the Cardinals bullpen is showing signs of wear, too. While carrying a solid 10-3 record on the season, the pen's ERA has grown to 4.40, tenth in the League.

Changes may be in the wind, but Triple-A seems to offer little relief. In her bi-weekly Cards minors pitching report posted this morning, Leonda Markee made this sad observation: "There were only two pitchers with a sub-.300 batting average against for the period, Mike Parisi and Anthony Reyes. Just two of the eleven active pitchers on the Memphis roster. That stat answers the question of why Kelvin Jimenez remains with the St. Louis squad. There is no adequate replacement for him in Memphis."

The offense has certainly contributed its part, too. The Cardinals are either last or second to last in the Senior Circuit in the following major offensive categories: runs, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, RBI, walks and stolen bases. In short, it has been a real team effort.

Speaking of the team, the Cardinals have posted just one month of winning regular season baseball in the last year. It was back in July, 2006. In their last 162 regular season games, the Cardinals have won 73 and lost 89, for a .451 winning percentage.

Despite the bad series in Kansas City this past week, the Cardinals still hold a slim 20-16 edge in wins against losing teams this season. However, bringing the scope back to the here and now, the A's are eight games above .500. Against winning teams, the Cardinals are a terrible 8-20 (.286) in 2007.

Still, the Cardinals face two Oakland starters on Saturday and Sunday who should not be confused with Cy Young Award candidates. Lenny DiNardo has a nice 2-2, 1.22 ERA record, but is unproven. He has just ten starts in 57 appearances as a major leaguer. Joe Kennedy (2-4, 3.50) has been in and out of Oakland's rotation after having previously spent time in pitching hotspots Colorado and Tampa Bay. His career mark is 41-56 with a 4.68 ERA.

So, maybe there's hope on the near-term horizon, right? Not so much.

Turns out that both DiNardo and Kennedy are left-handers. Pitchers with that orientation cause the Cardinals particular difficulty. This season to-date, the Cards are a most unlucky 7-11 (.389) against lefty starters and 30-45 (.400) since the start of the 2006 campaign.

I guess I will have to look forward to the return of the Kansas City Royals to St. Louis next week. Then again, never mind…

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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