Playing Patience or Panic on St. Louis Cardinals' 5 Worst Early Slumps
It may only be two weeks into the season, but it’s never too early for fans and sportswriters to nitpick and obsess over a player’s early struggles.
Some slumps can be written off as the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows of a long season. Others, however, can signify a trend of troubles ahead.
These five St. Louis Cardinals are off to a slow start in 2014. Is a breakout looming? Or will their woes continue?
In Allen Craig’s first eight games, he’s batting a woeful .097 (3-for-31) with three RBI, a .218 OPS, no extra base hits and one walk. He’s 1-for-19 over his last five games. Cards manager Mike Matheny gave his right fielder a breather in the finale of the Reds series.
Craig’s ground-ball rate of 85 percent, as per Fangraphs, is a huge indicator of his early offensive struggles. If nothing else, though, he’s been consistent in his slow starts the past two seasons, as he batted .228 through his first eight games in 2013.
The player who led Major League Baseball last season with a .454 average with runners in scoring position is just 2-for-11 this season in those situations.
Even after spitting out those depressing numbers, there’s no reason to think Craig won’t go on a tear soon. He stumbled last April to a .263 average with no homers before raking at a .326 clip the rest of the year.
When Matheny spoke to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, he didn't think the man who's driven in 189 runs the last two seasons would be down for long:
"He's really close. I know he is. He feels it. We're seeing some things that look like it. We're just breaking it up here to give him a few days to get things changed."
Thanks to the Cardinals offense, Lance Lynn is 2-0 on the season, but that record masks an ugly 6.55 ERA. The 11/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is encouraging, but just as discouraging is the .327 average opponents have against him.
In both outings against the Reds, the NL Central rivals got to Lynn in the first inning for three runs. What continues to be his Achilles’ heel is the inability to maintain his composure and limit the big inning.
Lynn has immense talent, but his inconsistency provides plenty of frustration for pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and Matheny.
Lynn won 33 games the past two seasons, so obviously he’s not going anywhere in the rotation. The Cardinals will continue to hold their breath in hopes that his focus catches up to his ability.
Shelby Miller has a 6.35 ERA through two appearances, but unlike Lynn, the record reflects his poor start. His biggest issue continues to be the long ball. After surrendering 20 last season, he’s already given up four in 2014.
As Lilliquist told Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Miller labors through too many innings which bumps up his pitch count.
Shelby needs to first and foremost bring his pitches per inning down. He always seems to find that 19 to 24-pitch inning which at the end of the day hinders him from getting deeper into ballgames.
He also hasn’t found an effective secondary pitch to consistently keep opposing hitters off that mid-90s fastball. After barely using the curve and the changeup against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Miller utilized the deuce and a cutter more against the Reds, but he had trouble finding the strike zone with them.
There’s certainly no reason to jump ship over two outings. Just keep in mind, however, that Miller’s next two starts will be on the road, where he posted a 4.57 ERA last season.
Jhonny Peralta has two homers on the season, which would be great news if they weren’t the only two hits he’s collected in 29 at-bats. In the recent home series against Cincinnati, he went 0-for-8.
Defensively, Peralta has committed two errors and has looked shaky on a few other chances. As a free-agent acquisition, he was billed as a shortstop with limited range who would catch what’s hit to him. His play through the first nine games has reinforced range limitations.
On the positive side, Peralta’s two long balls already surpassed Pete Kozma’s total from last year. Even though he’s not hitting, he has drawn five walks. Starting out of the gate sluggishly is nothing new for him. He's a career .234 hitter with a .304 on-base percentage in April.
Jon Jay’s abysmal spring has carried over into the regular season. After hitting .188 in the Grapefruit League, he’s batting .182 (2-for-11) in six games in 2014.
Peter Bourjos isn’t tearing the cover off the ball, but Jay needed to produce offensively if he hoped to wrestle playing time away from a clearly superior defender.
Down in Triple-A Memphis, strong starts by outfield prospects Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and Oscar Taveras only chip away at Jay’s usefulness in St. Louis. And while no change is imminent, Jay needs to provide value, even as a backup, to avoid becoming expendable.