Too soon to fret about unsteady Cardinals
National League champs have time to overcome early road schedule, sluggish offense
CHICAGO -- Go ahead, worry about the St. Louis Cardinals if you want to. But here's some advice.
Don't get silly about it.
Adam Wainwright lost to the Cubs on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, dropping the defending National League champions to 15-15 after 30 games, a whopping 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. It's an underwhelming start for a team that seemed capable of winning 100 games when it left Florida, sure, but it's not like anyone in a St. Louis uniform forgot the formula for success.
The Cardinals pitch, play defense and do the little things better than most other teams in the Majors. Sometimes they score a lot of runs, like they did a year ago, when they hit a ridiculous .330 with runners in scoring position, and sometimes they don't score that many runs.
Bedeviled by Anthony Rizzo in the opener of a weekend series, Wainwright uncharacteristically allowed six runs in a 6-5 loss, going to the showers after five innings. But even after that outing, St. Louis' starting rotation has a 2.70 ERA.
And Michael Wacha pitching on Saturday, followed by Lance Lynn on Sunday night.
"We expect to pitch well," Wainwright said. "We have the personnel in here to go out and pitch quality games every day. That's what we're going to try to continue to do."
As long as that remains true, it is far from a cause for major alarm that Mike Matheny's team isn't really hitting. This lineup should be better than the one that produced an NL-best 4.8 runs per game a season ago but is scoring more than half a run per game less. The reality is that the Cards are missing Carlos Beltran more than most people believed they would, both from his presence in the lineup and the clubhouse.
The retooled infield hasn't clicked as expected either, which was why Kolten Wong was shipped to Triple-A Memphis earlier this week. Jhonny Peralta, signed to replace the light-hitting Peter Kozma at shortstop, hit his seventh home run on Friday but is batting .208, which is Kozma territory.
"He's going to [get] his extra-base hits, there's no question," Matheny said. "We need to get him going, keep [him] going. Right now, he's got a good swing going. He's laying off a lot of borderline pitches, the ones way out of the zone. He's got a nice approach, nice and short."
First baseman Matt Adams is the anti-Peralta. He's hitting .318 but hasn't provided the run production that was expected, in large part because he's 4-for-29 with runners in scoring position. Matheny kept Adams on the bench Friday, with the Cubs starting lefty Travis Wood, and he flied out as a pinch-hitter to end the game.
The Cubs outhit the Cardinals, 12-8, with the Nos. 3-4 hitters, Rizzo and Starlin Castro, continuing to show the result of their work with new hitting coaches Bill Mueller and Mike Brumley. Wainwright was especially bummed that Rizzo homered off his curveball, which normally is one of the best pitches in baseball.
Wainwright didn't have his good stuff but was full of fight, as always. He got Castro to ground into a double play in the first inning and escaped a second-and-third, no-out mess in the second inning (a jam serious enough he threw the curveball to strike out Wood, a dangerous hitter by pitcher standards). But in the third inning, Wainwright bookended walks to Rizzo and Nate Schierholtz around a Castro single. That would lead to the game-turning three-run inning.
"My curveball was sporadic in the zone and out of the zone, which is pretty rare for me," said Wainwright. "It's a funny game. Today was not my day. I accept that and take responsibility for today and just move on."
It was a figurative reference, but it's worth considering for a moment the Cards' literal movement. They will travel to Atlanta and Pittsburgh when they leave Chicago. Barring rainouts, they will have played 26 road games by the end of this trip, on May 11, compared to 12 games at home.
That's a lot of time in the visitors' clubhouse. In fact, it represents their most road games in the first 38 games of a season since 1927.
Keep that in mind if you want to think the Cardinals will dig themselves a hole. They're going to have a lot of home games coming in the summer.
When you look at the roster, consider the strength of the organization and its farm system, not to mention all of that pitching, it's hard to read much into a 15-15 start.
"I don't think anybody in here is happy about where we are right now," Wainwright said. "The Brewers are playing great baseball, and they're a good team. They're not going to start playing bad ball and [let us] catch up. We're going to have to play some good ball to catch up, and we know that. We're a much better team than we've shown this far. It's like today. You can't do anything about it now. You just move on and try to play better."
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.