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What will it take to fix the 2012 Cardinals?

Posted Thursday, May 31, 2012, at 9:45 AM

As much as Cardinals fans would like to think that the month of May is somewhat of a curse for the team, and I could see why they might think that, the problem lies much deeper.

While the bullpen has gotten the lion share of the attention, there are several areas where the Cardinals are currently weak or at least struggling.

1.Bullpen -- Obviously. It's the obvious answer for a reason -- it's the obvious problem. Fernando Salas was the weakest link for quite some time, but after sending him to Memphis the numbers aren't looking any better. Wednesday night it was Marc Rzepczynski and Motte - tomorrow it could be anyone. Most people think the key to fixing the bullpen is to bring up more guys or make a trade. While in theory those things will work, you must first get to the root of the bullpen's problem, which is...

2.Starting pitching -- As great as the starting pitching was in April, May has not been a pleasant month for the 2012 Cardinals starters. With pitchers throwing, on average, well under six innings the bullpen has been both over-exposed and over-worked. Don't take me wrong, I'm not making excuses for them. They've been pretty bad. Victor Marte, Mitchell Boggs and Eduardo Sanchez (who has had limited work so far) have been the most solid guys to call late in games. Fortunately, Lynn and Wainwright, at least of late, have been putting together outings that don't involve relievers in the fourth inning. The idea of Jaime Garcia missing a start after his clean MRI still makes me quite uneasy. A Garcia loss would be huge at this stage of the season. I find it terribly interesting that he had his MRI the same day that the Texas Rangers signed Roy Oswalt. Go figure.

Jake Westbrook has now had several consecutive bad outings and seems to be getting back to his old ways. I really wanted to believe that the April Westbrook was the real one, but, he is a number five starter for a reason: inconsistency. So, don't be surprised when he's isn't consistently good. The issue right now is that he's becoming consistently bad. Westbrook is quickly reaching the point where the Cardinals will re-evaluate his role. One or two more starts like Tuesday night and I would expect a shift.

3.Number 2 spot in the lineup -- The loss of Jon Jay, and I know how many people have issues with him, was huge to this team. Despite his much improved defense and .343 batting average, he remains under-appreciated by Cardinals fans.

4.The number two spot is more key to a lineup than many realize. It's basically the gel that holds the top of the lineup together. When you have a great lead-off man (Furcal) and good power hitters (Holliday, Beltran, Freese, Molina, etc.) in the middle of the lineup, you need your second man on base. Period. Just like the lead-off man, his job is to be on base when the big dogs come up. Of course, Beltran has hit second quite a bit this season as well, but he's not the quintessential "number two guy."

5.Injuries -- "Thank you, Captain Obvious" as my step-son likes to say on occasion. May has just been an ugly month. The Cardinals have had nearly as many MRIs as wins (kidding) in the month of May. So far, the body count for May stands at a minimum of six (Berkman, Jay, M. Carpenter, Craig, Schumaker, McClellan). Since Chris Carpenter was already injured, I've chosen not to count him. Beltran wobbled, but he has yet to fall completely down. Garcia has his elbow/forearm discomfort. David Freese is having issues with his wrist. Believe it or not, things could be worse. I think.

There is no "fix this and things will be fine" answer to the Cardinals' problems. If only it were that simple. Things in general need to begin going the right direction and at this point they aren't. Several good signs last week looked like they might be just the kick the team needed, but any success was shortlived.

One thing is for sure -- the month of May is gone. Will the month of June be any better? I can't see how it could be much worse.

In Friday's column I will share some positive points from the month of May.

Yes, there are some. I promise.


To submit a question for the Balls & Strikes Mailbag, either e-mail cnoles@dailystatesman.com, call (573)624-4545, or fill out the form at dailystatesman.com/blogs/coreynoles/

Follow him on Twitter @coreynoles

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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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