DETROIT -- As far as series go, the Cardinals have seen worse. And yet, their two-game sweep at the hands of the cellar-dwelling Tigers certainly meant some things need to change if St. Louis wants to flip the script as the second half of the season draws near.
In Wednesday’s finale, the Cardinals took a two-run lead early before giving it right back and then some during a 6-2 loss at Comerica Park. A roster fraught with injuries hasn’t helped. The Cards are down many big names on the pitching staff and a handful of fielders as well, piecing together what they can with Triple-A reinforcements until they’re at full strength once again.
“I'm on record with my belief in this club,” manager Mike Shildt said Tuesday. “Just frustrated about the result … and I just know this group is right there.”
The Cardinals’ current stretch of 20 consecutive games against teams with sub-.500 records was hopefully going to build confidence, boost their record (36-38) back up above the .500 mark and give them a little breathing room. What’s more, the series in Detroit marked the first of three straight against teams in the basement of their respective divisions (also, Pirates and D-backs).
While St. Louis ultimately couldn’t capitalize in Motown, there were bright spots here and there that provided a peek into what the second half could hold once the pieces come together again.
What looked good
1. Nolan Arenado’s bat seems to be coming back around
The third baseman’s batting average has dipped by 40 points since May 18, and he weathered an 0-for-18 slump last week before a two-hit, three-RBI game in Atlanta on Sunday helped him begin to find his way again. Arenado slugged career home run No. 249 on Wednesday and added a pair of well-struck flyouts, a very welcome sign for the four-time Silver Slugger Award winner.
Wednesday’s round-tripper marked his first career RBI at Comerica Park.
2. The new kid is holding his own
It’s too early to tell how Lars Nootbaar’s contributions will play out long-term, but the 23-year-old has already collected his first RBI (on a sac fly Tuesday) and first MLB hit (a triple deep into center-field territory that sent his cheering section into celebration mode).
“I’m just glad I can go out there and do what I can,” Nootbaar said. “I’m not coming in here trying to do anything different. … I try to play the game hard, I try to play the right way.
“I’m just obviously a small piece, but I’m sure we’ll turn it around.”
Nootbaar’s glove is almost as highly rated as his arm. He can play all three outfield spots -- though Shildt says Nootbaar will primarily patrol the corners -- and showcased his rocket arm by firing home to catch Isaac Paredes trying to score, registering his first career assist.
What needs work
1. The rotation couldn’t dodge damage
On Tuesday, Johan Oviedo was cruising before a six-run fourth inning derailed his quest for career win No. 1. Then John Gant was snakebitten by four walks in his three-plus innings Wednesday.
“Sometimes it goes that way, I think,” Gant said. “In a bit of a rut right now, team-wise, but we’ve just got to keep playing. We’ll get out of it. I’ve just got to throw some more strikes, attack the zone a little better.
“I didn’t give the team a very good chance to win with my outing today.”
Gant issued consecutive free passes to open the second and third innings. While he managed to wriggle out of trouble in the former, Gant wasn’t so lucky the second time around. The third batter in the frame, Jonathan Schoop, drilled a hung sinker to the warning track to tie the game with a two-run double.
The Cards righty has an 0-2 record and a 7.94 ERA in June after going 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA in May.
2. The run support was … lacking
St. Louis finished 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday and collected just one hit over the final three frames. On Wednesday, the Cardinals outhit the Tigers, 7-6, but they couldn’t get over the hump, with Tommy Edman’s RBI knock in the third representing St. Louis’ final score.
The Cardinals have backed their rotation with three or more runs just 25 times in 74 games.