Many believed the St. Louis Cardinals were the team to beat in the NL Central this season. Now, they are hanging on by a thread just to make the playoffs.
While much is credited to the remarkable play the Brewers have been displaying, a lot of the credit to the Cardinals descent is internal.
Shoddy hitting, unreliable bullpen play and untimely losses have plagued the Cards throughout the season and it's even more prevalent now that they are 8.5 games back in the division.
With September rapidly approaching, here are five players the Cardinals desperately need to step up their game.
Up until about a month ago Jon Jay was nothing more than a role player. It wasn't until the Cards dealt Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays that Jay actually became a player the team needed to rely on.
Jay is a defensive staple in the Cardinals outfield, but that is not where the team needs him to step up. At the plate is where Jay has shown inconsistencies this season.
With only four extra base hits in 59 at-bats in the month of August, the Cardinals need to see improvement in those numbers over the course of the rest of the season—especially if Tony LaRussa is going to be having Jay hit either leadoff or in the six hole, both of which are likely to happen.
Okay, c'mon now, you had to know he'd be on here.
Despite leading the National League in home runs (31), it's safe to say that Albert Pujols hasn't quite lived up to the $300 million expectation. Hell, he hasn't even lived up to the norm we expect from the three-time MVP award winner.
He's batting under .300 this late in the season for the first time in his career, his RBI numbers are down and it seems as if he's rolling into more double plays than ever. Unsettling statistics for Cardinals fans everywhere.
But there is good news.
His average has improved as of late and he seems to be waiting pitches better, as well.
Either way, the Cardinals are going to need MVP Albert Pujols for the rest of the season if they have any hope of reaching October baseball.
Lefty hurler Jamie Garcia is one of the brightest young arms in the league.
He just hasn't been one of the brightest young arms as of late.
Since starting 9-3, Garcia has been abysmal, posting a 1-3 record with three no decisions in his last seven starts, raising his ERA a half a point in the process.
With six or seven starts left on the slate, the Cards are going to need him to be close to lights out considering three of them are going to be at Milwaukee and Philadelphia in September.
Matt Holliday isn't on here because his average is down, and he isn't on here because his defense has been awful.
He's on here because he's the Cardinals clean-up hitter and Albert Pujols needs protection in the lineup.
Let's put it this way: Pujols and Holliday are like a primetime package—a Bonnie and Clyde kind of ordeal—and the Cardinals need both of them to be on their A game for the team to have a chance.
After such a hot start to the season, Holliday hasn't posted a .300-plus monthly average since, even though he's still batting .309 on the season.
Simply put, the Cardinals go as Holliday and Pujols go.
The Cardinals bullpen is absolutely terrible. I mean, is anyone going to really try and argue that?
Let's just throw out a quick stat: The Cardinals bullpen has 35 saves in 57 opportunities. That's good for the second worst save percentage in the entire MLB among teams with more than 50 save opportunities.
It doesn't take a whiz kid to realize those numbers shouldn't be coming from a true postseason contender.
Now, even though it's clear that the pen has shown improvement since dumping former All Star Ryan Franklin and injecting Kyle McClellan back in, it's still nowhere close to the level it needs to be.
This may be a bold prediction, but if the Cardinals want any chance of catching up to Milwaukee in the division is going to start and end with the bullpen, and that means zero blown saves for the remainder of the year.