Baseball is a painful game to endure. Believe me, standing next to a team over a season takes dedication. Six months, 162 games, and a constant rise and fall. Teams can win six of seven and then lose eight of ten, and it feels like a thunderstorm pouring all over your neighborhood. 

After a 20-10 start to the 2019 season, the Cardinals have suddenly lost 9 of 11 and fallen from first to fourth in the National League Central Division to fourth place. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who had lost 11 of 16, just won a four-game series with ease, finishing off the hometown Cardinals, 10-6, in front of a packed Mother's Day crowd. Depressing is a way to describe it.

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As I prescribe more Bloody Mary's for the reading audience, let's go over some issues with the Cardinals. What's going on?

Inconsistent Defense

In the series loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cardinals had a pair of games where they made two costly errors. While they haven't reached the depth of the lethargic, error-prone defense of the past few seasons, this team can't afford to make those mistakes. They cleaned it up against Pittsburgh, but still lost the Phillies series due to breakdowns in the field. Don't watch Dexter Fowler or Marcell Ozuna play the field too closely or it will hurt your eyes. 

Chilly Bats

Coming into Sunday's game, the Cardinals had lost eight of ten games, and in those eight losses, they had scored a total of 14 runs, including quite a few games where the lineup could only generate a run or two. Shutouts were mixed in as well. Mike Shildt has taken the polar opposite route that Mike Matheny did in resisting the urge to create 45 lineups in a month, but perhaps a tweak to the starting nine could spur an outbreak. There's a lot of complacent at-bats and strikeouts. While St. Louis ranks 18th in the Majors in strikeouts, there are games where they simply look overmatched. For the middle two games of the series, the Pirates put on a tribute to the 1990's Atlanta Braves with their work.

Lack of Power From Big Boys

Before Paul Goldschmidt got cranking today, he was part of a lackadaisical attack near the top of the lineup. Along with Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Marcell Ozuna, Goldschmidt was falling asleep at the wheel when it came to power stats. The former Diamondback seems to be breaking out of it, but DeJong (5-22), Ozuna (3-28), and Carpenter (3-23) need to follow suit. If the top four guys in the lineup can't get on base, what can the starting pitching, defense, and bottom of the order generate?

The Dakota Hudson trials

The young man has made strides on the mound, but he also seems completely lost at times. He went there and put the Pirates up 3-0 before the crowd settled into their seats. He hasn't gone seven innings yet and often struggles to go past five. When I say the Cardinals need a guy like Madison Bumgarner or Dallas Keuchel, I am staring at Hudson who still has things to figure out. He has gotten better but still allows the big inning and can get blasted by a mediocre lineup.

Sidenote: Does Luke Gregerson really have to pitch a lot this season? I know the team is already paying Brett Cecil to be injured for the season, but can they add this guy to the pile? He's just not good. 

Sidenote #2: I won't complain about Kolten Wong or Harrison Bader too much. They offer high-caliber defense. I can forgive Wong for his 18-96 performance over the past 30 days, and the same applies to the outfielder. If you offer premium defense, the feeble bat can be handled. 

Be better, Carp

While I still believe in a comeback, Carpenter is stuck in his early-season struggles. Over his last 30 games, he's hitting below .200 and his OBP stands at .315. If he is going to hit leadoff, he needs to bounce back soon. If not, move him down. It happened last season, and the next thing you knew, Carpenter was slugging. Moving him down to sixth in the lineup, with a guy like Dexter Fowler moving up, could give the lineup a rightful kick. I don't think he needs to be outright benched, but Jedd Gyorko pushing him for a few starts wouldn't hurt. Carpenter was starting to warm up, and then he cooled off like the St. Louis weather.

Here's the thing. The Cardinals are still 22-19 and in good condition. Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas look great, and Goldschmidt's bat coming into form will help the box score. Yadier Molina's bat remains steady, and Ozuna and DeJong contribute hits even when they are marred in a slump.

While the record isn't bad, the competition is undeniable. The Brewers, Cubs, and Pirates aren't going anywhere, and so far in the early going of 2019, they have shown supremacy over St. Louis. What makes that change? Better at-bats, more consistent defense, deeper starts from the rotation and a bullpen that doesn't look worn out before June.

Thanks for reading. 

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