ST. LOUIS Cardinals manager Mike Matheny could see obvious differences between the surging first-place Chicago White Sox and his slumping squad Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.
“You could see one team with a lot of confidence and the way they walk onto the field and the way they play the game and I think you’re seeing a team on the other field that’s not so much,” Matheny said after the Cardinals’ 6-1 loss.
The Cardinals are 6-12 in their past 18 games and have fallen into third place in the National League Central Division. They have won just two of their past 10 series.
The confidence and swagger the Cardinals showed the first month of the season is noticeably missing. And they know it.
“We have to figure out how to get it back because we had it and it’s there and it’s in us, but right now we’re not doing it,” Matheny said. “We’re not showing it. Obviously wins create that confidence and that breeds more.
“We can control the way we go about our business and I think we need to go about it expecting to win and not expecting things to happen and the wheels to fall off.”
The Cardinals wasted a brilliant outing from starter Adam Wainwright Tuesday after the right-hander allowed just two runs in seven innings and turned a 2-1 deficit over to the bullpen.
But the struggling Cardinals bullpen allowed four runs in the eighth inning two each from Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs to put the game out of reach.
The Cardinals mighty and powerful offense, which still leads the league in several offensive categories, continued it’s inconsistent stretch by hitting into a pair of key double plays with runners in scoring position.
They’ve scored just six total runs in their past four games the same number the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates scored Tuesday night against Baltimore.
“We feel like we’re a better team, that’s for sure,” said slugger Allen Craig. “We’re kind of treading water right now and trying to fight to stay above 500 but it’s a long season and we’ve got 100 games left. Things can turn around quick and we can go on a run. We just have to bring the energy.
“There are a lot of different things that can spark a team. We’ll just have to wait and see. Guys are aware of what’s going on. We’re going to do a better job.”
The defending World Series champions burst out of the gates to start the year. They were 20-11 on May 10 and had a 3 game lead in the division. But a rash of key injuries finally caught up with them and the losses began to mount.
The Cardinals are just 11-19 since May 10 and have won consecutive games just twice since May 24. Injuries to Lance Berkman, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, Matt Carpenter and Craig haven’t helped, but the Cardinals aren’t ready to use it as an excuse.
“We’ve got to play better,” said Wainwright. “I think every one of us will tell you that. We’re a much better team then we’re playing. We’ll play better. We just have to wake up a little bit.
“I think we’ve definitely had some injuries, some key injuries that demoralize you if you let them, but I don’t think that’s the case. We’re missing a couple key players but we’re also sending out a great lineup and a great pitching staff good enough to win every game. We’re just in a funk right now. We’ll come around.”
Starter Chris Carpenter, the ace of last year’s World Series winning team, went down in Spring Training and has yet to throw a pitch. Lefty Jaime Garcia is out for an extended time with a shoulder injury as well.
In the bullpen, key reliever Kyle McClellan is out with an elbow injury and veteran Scott Linebrink was recently released after a shoulder injury has kept him from appearing at all this year.
The offense has suffered an almost unfair amount of injuries as well with Beltran, Craig and others almost forced to play through nagging injuries recently because of the amount of players already out.
But despite the poor play and the concerning amount of losses piling up in recent weeks, the Cardinals find themselves just three games behind the division-leading Reds with more than half the season yet to play.
And the Cardinals are hoping to use that as a rallying cry.
“We’re not even at the halfway point yet and what are we, three games back?” Wainwright said. “I really feel like this rut we’re in right now is as bad as we can play. The things we usually do really well we’re not doing and yet we’re still right there.
“All it takes is one good game to get us started and get that ball rolling down hill. We’re a dangerous team. We have to execute better. We have to pitch better, we have to play better defense, we have to hit better. We just have to do everything better. You’re going to have days and games and stretches when its not going good and the great teams find ways to get out of those funks quicker than the teams that aren’t great.”
Said Boggs: “If the season ended tomorrow, we’d be in a heck of a lot of trouble. But we’re in shooting distance and if we play the way were capable of playing, we’re going to be right in the mix all the way to the end. I think that’s what our focus needs to be. We’re good enough to be there at the end, we just have to play like it and do the things were capable of doing.
“I would think every guy in this locker room would be disappointed with where we’re at right now but at the same time, I think everybody in here understands what we’re capable of. If we play the way we’re capable of playing, good things will happen to this team.”
The Cardinals hope the good things start happening soon. And it might start by getting their swagger back.