The St. Louis Cardinals played their first five games – three at home and two on the road – this past week. Considering how extremely competitive the NL Central is, especially in a shortened season, the Cardinals have no time to waste if they want to reach the postseason.
The big picture: After one week of baseball against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins, how have the Cardinals played to start the 2020 MLB season?
The Cardinals buck the Bucs
The Cardinals’ first series properly showcased the good and the bad. When the Cardinals’ lineup can get in a rhythm, they are deadly along with their great pitching. But, if the offense can’t hit the broad side of a barn, great pitching performances go to waste.
In the first game of the season, ace Jack Flaherty took the mound and he didn’t disappoint. In seven innings, he struck out six and gave up two runs on six hits. Meanwhile, the Cardinals scored five runs, thanks to home runs from Tyler O’Neill, Dexter Fowler and Paul DeJong.
St. Louis dominated Pittsburgh on both sides in the second game of the series. The Cardinals scored nine runs on 10 hits and Adam Wainwright provided a vintage performance with only three hits and one run allowed across six innings. Better yet, Paul Goldschmidt also hit his first home run in the 9-1 win.
After outscoring the Pirates 14-5 the previous two days, game three was a different story. Dakota Hudson lasted 4.1 innings as the Pirates scored four runs on seven hits against him. Meanwhile, the Cardinals only scored one run on a Tommy Edman hit. Andrew Miller gave up one more run in the 5-1 loss.
Although the Cardinals dropped the final game in the series, going 2-1 before facing a hot Twins team, they were in good shape. The offense showed signs of consistency and the pitching was anchored by former ace Carlos Martinez and promising arm Daniel Ponce de Leon.
Minnesota grounds the Redbirds
Facing one of MLB’s best lineups, the Cardinals had their work cut out for them. Although it was a quick two-game set, Minnesota’s sluggers made it feel far longer.
With Martinez on the mound, the Cardinals hoped for a solid outing from their former star in game one. Instead, he lasted 3.2 innings, giving up seven hits – two of them home runs – and only struck out a pair in the 6-3 loss. The Cardinals did score three runs, thanks to home runs from Edman and O’Neill, but that was it for the offense.
The second game featured more of the same as the previous three: little offense and decent pitching. In his first start of the season, Ponce de Leon pitched well with eight strikeouts in 3.2 innings. That said, he gave up three earned runs and labored through the outing with 85 pitches. On the other side, the Cardinals couldn’t get anything going, getting only three hits in the 3-0 loss.
In this series, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill looked dominant. Bailey is 7-16 with a 5.73 ERA in 29 games against the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Hill is 4-1 against the Cardinals with a 4.38 ERA in nine games. Part of that dominance has to do with the Cardinals inability to hit as well.
The bottom line: The Cardinals are off to a decent start
After starting the season well enough on offense, the third game of the Pittsburgh series showed how volatile the Cardinals’ lineup can be. Though the Cardinals scored 14 runs in two games, they only scored four in the next three contests.
The Cardinals have to do a lot of things right this season if they want to make the postseason, mainly better hitting to complement good pitching. Serving as the designated hitter, Matt Carpenter hasn’t panned out the way St. Louis hoped with a .200/.294/.267 slash line through five games
Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that St. Louis started slowly last season as well before making it to the postseason. Although they don’t have the luxury of 80 or so games to figure things out, it’s better to have one bad series in the beginning than toward the end. If recent history is any indication, the Cardinals should get back to their winning ways fairly soon.