Another form of bird flu

This one is a most disturbing strain. It appears that my beloved Redbirds seem to catch an infection every time they play a team with an above-.500 record. Against the Marlins, Nationals, and Pirates (i.e. those who suck), we're 11-2 on the season. Against everyone else, we're 10-11. Against the NL Central, we're 11-11. That's not going to cut it.

If you follow the fingers that point, they all lead to the offense. Pitching hasn't been a problem, or so the media will lead you to believe. Our 3.51 ERA tops the NL, and our bullpen ERA is easily the best at 2.53, thanks mostly to the contributions of some surprising folks (Wainwright and Hancock heading the list).

But that sparkling ERA overlooks the struggles of our closer, Izzy, who has been doing his best impersonation of the Kansas City Royals pitching staff. Last night -- after Albert the Great hit yet another game-winning home run to give us a 4-2 lead -- Izzy came into the game in the top of the ninth to attempt the save. Izzy hasn't been getting much work lately, cause we've either been losing or blowing out our opponents. In a week-and-a-half, he had made just two appearances, both of them scoreless frames to lower his once astronomical ERA to 5.23. But as any Cardinal fan knows, scoreless frames from Izzy can be deceiving. Sure enough, he allowed SIX baserunners -- four of them on walks -- in both outings combined. Meaning, he had the bases loaded each trip out, but somehow snuck out of harm's way.

Last night was a breath of fresh air, however. Izzy actually struck out the side, setting down the Rockies (including Todd Helton) in order. I honestly didn't think I'd see that happen this entire season. But one good outing does not wipe the chalkboard clean. Even with the three Ks from last night's game, Izzy has now walked 11 batters this year to only 9 strikeouts. That's not a ratio that's going to produce the desired results, especially from a guy you hope is your stopper. So, even if the rest of our pen maintains their valiant effort, I suspect we'll still see our share of woes come the ninth inning if Izzy doesn't get straightened out soon.

As for that struggling offense, as reported by Viva El Birdos, we're actually keeping pace with last year's squad (OB% +3 points; SLG% -5 points; HR even). The problem is that we've done our damage against those weaker teams. Against the better pitching staffs, our bats go silent. The facts are the facts: despite hitting fairly well as of late, Rolen hasn't had an RBI in 21 games; Edmonds has been driving in runs, but he's not getting on base OR slugging at anywhere near his career clip; despite hitting three solo home runs in back-to-back-to-back games a little over a week ago, Encarnacion still only has 12 RBI on the year (which projects to just 59 for the season); Molina has been a big old zero with the bat in his hands (.438 OPS!); and our No. 2 hitters this year (that all too important slot right ahead of Albert) are getting on base a lousy 30 percent of the time thanks to just 8 walks.

So, the offense does indeed need a kick in the rear, and I doubt that's going to come from recently called up outfielder Larry Bigbie, who at his best is like Encarnacion with a bit more plate discipline. But things will improve over the next month. Tony appears to have finally "gotten it" concerning the No. 2 hole, allowing Luna and J-Rod the bulk of at-bats there recently. And they've responded by getting on base at a .410 clip. I suspect that Rolen is just in one of those unlucky RBI slumps, where the hits just aren't falling with runners on. He's swinging the bat well, especially considering he's coming off of shoulder surgery. There's two problems addressed.

However, Edmonds (and his bum shoulder) truly have me worried. He's to the point where surgery is the only answer, and since that's not an option, he's going to be playing with pain the entire season. At his advanced age, I just don't see him having a productive season with the bat -- at least not what we've become accustomed to. To make up for his step backward (and the utter lack of production we're seeing from the catcher's spot in the order), we need to trade for a legitimate left fielder. Since Tony doesn't seem convinced that J-Rod can play every day (despite an .859 OPS in 194 career at-bats), we need to acquire an everyday left fielder that will produce in the No. 2 slot. That puts J-Rod and So on the bench or platooning with Encarnacion (who has a new 3-year contract to protect him) in right. I'm okay with that option, as it strengthens our bench.

But who to get? Without looking up contract details, I'd consider Seattle's Raul Ibanez, who is being paid $5 mil this year, is getting on base at a .350 clip, and hitting for power. He's 33, but performing to his career norms. If he's not to our liking, what about the recently acquired Brad Wilkerson, who is turning it on after a bust of an April? He's in his prime, knows how to get on base, has some pop in his bat, and is a million bucks cheaper than Ibanez. He'll also be harder to get, however, as the Rangers are in the divisional race. So, let's strike him from the list. The Twins sure do stink this year, so what about trading for the pricier ($6.5 mil) Shannon Stewart? He doesn't hit for much power anymore, but he still gets on base at a .350 pace and makes good contact. At 32, he probably has a few good years left in him.

It's not in the Redbirds nature to make a trade this early in the season. I doubt anything will happen before July, to be honest. But the next month-plus of the season will be a telling time for us: 31 of our next 43 games are against teams that currently have winning records. We'll see if the trend continues...

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