Dan McLaughlin

The Cardinals finished up a lost weekend on Sunday afternoon with a discouraging 9 to 7 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. With the weekend sweep, the Reds are now a game and half ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Central. While it wasn’t one of the prettiest series the Cardinals have ever played in terms of defense and timely hitting, there needs to be perspective on what took place and what lies ahead. Remember when the Cardinals swept the Reds last year? For whatever reason, they couldn’t build on that and it meant nothing. Time will tell what this means. The Cardinals just hit the quarter way of the season. How good is this team?

Even though the Cardinals were swept over the weekend, it’s not time to panic at all. This is a solid team which is led by very good starting pitching. It’s hard to believe where the Cardinals are even with the loss of Adam Wainwright for the season and Chris Carpenter owning just one victory under his belt. A concern coming off this road trip is the bullpen. The bullpen has a record of 6 and 10 and ERA that is near 5. During the series with the Reds, the Cardinals couldn’t close out game 1 and had an ERA of over 7. The club has blown 9 saves. Over the long haul of the season, that has to improve. The question the Cardinals need to answer is, “Who can close games out?” Obviously, the team is still working with the Ryan Franklin to iron out his issues and the young guns have yet to establish themselves in that role.

We still haven’t quite seen Albert Pujols at his best and that’s scary to think about. Even though Pujols hasn’t hit a home run since April 23, the Cardinals first baseman hit over .400 for the road trip and is edging closer to .300 overall. Matt Holliday is among the league leaders in most offensive categories as well as Lance Berkman. This is a team that leads the league in hitting and is doing so with David Freese and Skip Schumaker out for considerable time. Those two could play a major factor in the division before it’s all said and done. The offense isn’t a worry. The defense? Yes. The Cardinals are second from the bottom in the National League in fielding percentage. While the offense has been an improvement, it’s come at the expense of the defensive play. Over the course of a long season, those defensive lapses add up and it must improve.

Finally, the Cardinals will open a brief four game series on Monday night against the Phillies and Astros. The bats will certainly be tested as the Redbirds will face Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Bud Norris in the first three games. Even though it’s only two games, the Cardinals can use it as a measuring stick of just how good they are. They’ll see what many believe is to be the best in the National League, if not in baseball, the Phillies. While the weekend was a tough one for the Cards, just remember, it’s only a fourth of the way through the season. Too much can happen.

Dan McLaughlin, the television voice of the Cardinals, hosts “The Sports Hub” weeknights from 9p-12a on KMOX