The St. Louis Cardinals got off to a white-hot start to begin the 2012 season.
While the team was very potent offensively for most of that start, much of the team's success was due to their starting pitching.
Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse were able to completely dominate opposing lineups throughout the month of April. With a combination of lights-out pitching and offensive power, the Redbirds, although it was early in the season, looked primed to defend their 2011 World Championship.
May has been an entirely different story for St. Louis. The pitching is not dominant, injuries are piling up and the Cardinals are not playing very well on the field. Many think that St. Louis could be going through a slump, while others think that maybe the Cardinals just dominated weak opponents throughout the month of April.
I think this is simply a slump. After all, the Cardinals did win the World Series last year, so we know that they can compete with the top teams in the league. With all that being said, St. Louis needs to find a way to break out of their slump quickly before they give up the National League Central Division lead to the Cincinnati Reds.
So what can the Cardinals do to survive the recent slump of their pitching staff, and frankly their entire team?
The first thing to do is pitch better.
Do the St. Louis starters need to be lights-out like they were in the first month of the year? While that would be nice, it is not entirely necessary. The offense is third in baseball in runs scored, second in batting average, second in on base percentage and third in slugging percentage. Calling the St. Louis offense good would be an understatement, because when healthy they are one of the best in baseball.
Having a great offense means the pitching staff needs to go out and put up good starts. Pitch five or six innings and give up three runs or fewer, and most of the time the offense will be able to do the rest.
The second thing the Cardinals need to do is pitch better out of the bullpen.
Last night against the Dodgers was just another example of the St. Louis bullpen blowing the game. Left hander Marc Rzepczynski fell behind in the count 3-0 to pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke and was taken deep on an inside fastball. The home run allowed the Dodgers to take the lead, and ultimately to win the game 6-5.
The bullpen can not have games where they are given a three or four-run lead, and then give it away. The Cardinals have blown leads and save opportunities on too many occasions so far this season, and those losses are really starting to pile up and hurt their record.
The last thing the Cardinals need to do to get out of their slump is play better defense. Since last Monday, the Cardinals have made nine errors, and have made three errors in one game on two separate occasions.
Much of the team's great pitching was due to the great defense being played behind the pitchers. It helped the pitchers keep hitters off base, helped them get out of jams and helped their confidence.
The Cardinals will have to start playing better defense if they want to be one of the hottest teams in the league once again.
The Cardinals can still certainly be a great team even if their pitchers are not throwing at a Cy Young-caliber level. The entire team just needs to play solid, consistent baseball.
Quality starts, strong relief pitching, timely hitting and solid defense were the trademarks of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals and the April 2012 team. These need to become their trademarks again if they want to stop their recent slide and get back to being that dominant team we saw in April.