The Cardinals acknowledge that momentum is not going to experience a groundswell by chance, that their season will not take an about-face by waiting for their injured masses to return from the shelf and that the time to strike -- with seven consecutive games against last-place teams -- is now.
But they’re going to have to wait at least one day longer to see any such tides turn.
A day of tinkering -- with the lineup and the pitcher approach -- in front of the largest crowd at Busch Stadium this season proved unfruitful on Thursday night. Six walks (and one intentional) from Carlos Martínez and just four hits off Pirates pitching set an inauspicious recipe for a St. Louis club desperate for a revival, as it fell 8-2 to Pittsburgh in front of 33,254 faithful to open the four-game set.
“Look, no one's going to make excuses, winners just don't do that,” said manager Mike Shildt. “But we [have to] be realistic about it. When you feel like you're playing uphill a lot, you can have some frustration. It's harder to stay present, it's hard to stay in and execute that gameplan.”
Shildt played around with his lineup for the evening, knocking Tommy Edman down from the leadoff spot to No. 6 and moving everyone else up a spot, with Dylan Carlson taking over leadoff duties. Citing the need to get back to the on-base tendencies that have evaporated -- the Cardinals own the worst mark in the National League at .298 -- Shildt said that the switch was less about the order and more about trying to improve the approach and at-bats across the lineup.
And the tinkering will continue. Shildt cemented that, after Martínez’s fourth disastrous outing in his last five tries, there will be changes to the Cardinals’ rotation.
And for the offense, changes will continue to be made in incremental steps.
“I don't think we've necessarily done the greatest job making a gameplan for how [pitchers] are going to throw us day by day, and working on things pregame that are specifically tailored to prepare ourselves for that,” Edman said. “I think we're going to kind of start to implement a few more of those things into our pregame routines and hopefully that helps us out.”
Edman said that was the discussion that circulated around a clubhouse meeting Thursday afternoon, with the Cardinals entering play losers of 15 of their last 20 and swept by the last-place Tigers in the middle of the week.
Asked about Edman’s comments on the team’s shortcomings in preparation, Shildt reaffirmed that the processes in place have been both on point and available, but he acknowledged the Cardinals have gotten away from the attention that made them a successful, first-place club through much of the first two months of the season.
“I don't want to misrepresent that the report wasn't accurate or the scouting wasn't good or the understanding of what we're going to do wasn’t good,” Shildt said. “It was the attention to the execution of it. … We just got away from being committed to all aspects of the game, and I'll take responsibility for that. But we're back on track.”
The Cardinals hope they find success with an adjusted lineup. The first such go provided little change, though; the Cardinals have collected just 19 hits over their last four contests -- an average of 4.75 per game, which is fewer than the number of free passes conceded by Martínez on Thursday.
In its last three games against the last-place Tigers and Pirates, St. Louis has been outscored 22-6.
As Shildt alluded to, the Cardinals played from a disadvantage on Thursday. Each of the first five batters reached under Martínez’s watch, with a pair scoring in the first. It was a difficult beginning and a rocky road made more turbulent when a three-run homer to Bryan Reynolds -- a middle-middle changeup -- was sent 404 feet into the home bullpen in the fourth.
“We have to change our trajectory, we're going to have to do something a little bit different,” Shildt said of the rotation. “We've got some things in motion that we're talking about and thinking about … things in motion that we have internally that we have currently on our roster.”
Figuring to take Martínez’s spot in the rotation is Wade LeBlanc, who threw 26 of his 36 pitches for strikes on Thursday but has starts in his recent past, most recently in Triple-A for the Rangers and Brewers, but also with the Orioles at the Major League level this season.