The Cardinals are about to wander into the wildlife park at Wrigley Field for a three-game weekend set against the Cubs.

In their first visit of the season to the famed zoological garden on Chicago’s North Side, the Cardinals hope to avoid a mauling and maybe win a ballgame or two. 

It’s been a stressful time for the Cardinals. They’ve dropped from first place in the NL Central after losing their traditional safety net of sturdy pitching. 

They’ve suffered injuries and indignities. 

They have a rotation that largely depends on a soon-to-be 40-year old pitcher to save them. Time after time. 

They have a rotation that sways in either direction based on the caprice of Carlos Martinez. 

Our Baseball Village longs for a miracle trade that would air-lift Max Scherzer to his hometown to cure the Cardinals. And gosh bless those in Our Town’s Medias who  continue to think that making the Max dream come true will be as easy as a storyline from an old  “I Dream Of Jeannie” episode. 

Good luck with that. 

Since Bill DeWitt Jr. took over as chairman in 1996, the organization’s three most prominent starting-pitching trade acquisitions during a season were John Lackey (2014), Jake Westbrook (2010) and Chuck Finley (2002.) 

Finley made 12 starts and retired after the ‘02 season. Westbrook had a 4.72 ERA in his 550 innings as a Cardinal. Westbrook provided a good supply of innings (183) for the 2011 World Series champion, but let’s not get carried away; his ERA that season was 5.06. Lackey was the best of the three, but part of the appeal of trading for him was his cheap salary ($507,000) for 2015. 

The Cardinals have launched a search for a starting pitcher, and let’s hope the front office reels in something better than Justin Masterson, who had a 7.04 ERA in nine starts after the Cardinals obtained him from Cleveland in late July 2014. 

Onward …

Johan Oviedo starts the series opener Friday at Wrigley Field, and he’s walking an average of 6.38 batters per nine innings. That said, I still believe Oviedo has a chance to be very good as long as he can throw more strikes. 

And that’s what much of this comes down to, right?

The Cardinals would rather give than receive, and the misplaced generosity is causing major problems. 

St. Louis pitchers have issued 272 unintentional walks and hit 50 batters this season. 

If we view the path from home plate to first base as a hiking trail, opponents have strolled approximately 3.7 miles this season after being walked or struck by Cardinals’ pitching.

The pitching coach Mike Maddux has said that he doesn’t mind the hit-by-pitch count because it means that the Cardinals are throwing inside. He has also said that he has no problem with “competitive walks.” Maddux does, however, dislike “non-competitive” walks. 

That’s three categories. And the pitching coach approves of two of the three as courtesy routes for placing an opponent on first base without having to swing for a single. 

Good grief. And we wonder why STL pitchers are so careless about this preponderance of walks and HBPs? The Cardinals rank 11th in the majors for most runs saved, but their built-in defense system is wasted too often. 

Opponents that have been walked unintentionally or pelted by a pitch have come around to score 90 runs this season; that represents 31.6 percent of the total runs scored against St. Louis through the first 62 games. 

You don’t have to be Bill James to understand why the Cubs and the Brewers have jumped over the Cardinals and into first place, each sitting with a three-game lead over St. Louis as play began Friday. 

Pitching. 

Pitching. 

And pitching. 

||> The Cubs are 23-11 since May 4 and have the best team ERA in baseball (2.68) over the 43 games. Their bullpen ERA (2.70) is second overall this season and ranks 1st (1.57) since May 4. 

Chicago’s rotation ERA (4.54) ranks 22nd for the season, but the recent trend is positive: a 3.48 starter ERA that ranks 9th in MLB over the past five weeks. The rotation may not hold up for the duration of the season but has fewer problems than a battered, thinning STL rotation. 

||> The Brewers are 14-4 since May 22 and have won 11 of their last 13. Not that this is anything new for the Crew in 2021, but their splendid pitching continues to compensate for a moribund offense that ranks 22nd in MLB with an average of 3.97 runs per game. Milwaukee has a 3.15 ERA over the 14-4 stretch and a 3.00 ERA during the current 11-2 run. 

For the season Milwaukee ranks 9th in team ERA (3.63) and 5th in rotation ERA (3.17.) Top three starters Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta have combined for a 1.85 ERA and 36.8% strikeout rate in 203.1 innings. And the trio doesn’t walk many batters (only 6.8%.) Milwaukee ranks third in the majors with 28 quality starts. 

The Brewer bullpen labors for consistency until closer Josh Hader enters the conflict, but the Crew’s relief issues are minor relative to the mess in the St. Louis bullpen. 

||> The Cardinals are 9-15 since May 14, and pitching is their most ruinous flaw. Since May 14 the Cardinals rank 27th in overall ERA (5.44), 25th in rotation ERA (5.53) and 25th in bullpen ERA (5.34.) 

The Cards have 20 quality starts — but seven were delivered by Jack Flaherty, and he’s out indefinitely with a torn oblique muscle. Miles Mikolas (forearm) and Kwang Hyun Kim (lower back) are on the IL, with Kim expected to return soon. 

During the 9-15 skid Cardinals starters rank 25th in innings, and that figures to become an even bigger problem during Flaherty’s absence. 

The entire STL pitching staff has the highest walk rate (11.8%) and the lowest strikeout rate (19.4%) in the majors. That’s so bad it borders on the unbelievable. 

The current team ERA for the season is 4.32; that would be the eighth-worst by a St. Louis staff in the 60 seasons since the NL’s expansion in 1962. 

The bullpen’s 14.1% walk rate is the worst in the majors and would be the most substandard by a group of Cardinal relievers since the 17.6% walk rate in 1926. (Hence the nickname “Wild Bill” Hallahan.) 

The rotation’s current 9.4% walk rate would be the fourth-worst by St. Louis starters for at least the last 106 seasons; FanGraphs data only goes back as far as 1916. 

The Cardinals must do better; this pitching will lead to their demise. There’s potential for improvement within, but outside help is necessary. And as many have written and spoken in recent weeks, the Cardinals’ front office will be low on leverage when exploring the trade market.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak will try to lower expectations before he tries to make a trade. 

The simple reason: there isn’t much to trade unless the organization is willing to part with its best prospects including several that are in development at Double A Springfield. 

Sure, the Cardinals have other problems. But none are nearly as important as the precarious state of their pitching staff. Without help, without solutions, the consequences can be devastating. 

So far in June, the Cardinals have a more hideous team ERA (6.34) than the Colorado Rockies (5.00.)

Pitching matters. Always has. Always will.

Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said it: “Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same — pitching.”

Thanks for reading and have a nice weekend.

–Bernie 

Check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com  … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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