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A Big Problem For the Cardinals In September: The Young Starters Are Struggling

After going double ugly and losing the first two games to the Brewers, the Cardinals have an 11-12 record in September.

From the first day back from the All-Star break until the end of August, the Cardinals went 28-13. That .682 winning percentage was the best in the National League over that time.

Obviously, things have changed. But if you’re looking for the No. 1 reason behind the Cardinals’ downtrend, then stop the search. It’s the pitching.

Or, to be more specific, the young starting pitching. Rookies Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber, Daniel Poncedeleon — and John Gant, a big leaguer for fewer than two seasons. Including his matchup against the Brewers on Wednesday night, Gant has made 19 of his 28 MLB starts this season. He’s never been a regular in a major-league rotation until now.

The statistics are revealing.

From the resumption of play after the All-Star break through Aug. 31, the four young pitchers combined to make 25 starts.

And the Cardinals went 18-7 in games started by Flaherty, Gomber, Gant and Poncedeleon. And that was no accident. Gant had a 3.16 ERA in eight starts. Flaherty had a 2.28 ERA in eight starts. Gomber had a 2.68 ERA in his seven starts. Poncedeleon started twice and had a 2.07 ERA.

If we add up the quartet’s innings pitched and earned runs allowed, Flaherty, Gant, Gomber and “Ponce” combined for a sweet 2.53 ERA and 11 quality starts.

September has been unkind to the foursome.

This month Flaherty, Gant, Gomber and Ponce had combined for 16 starts through Tuesday — and the team’s record in the 16 games is a dreary 4-12. No coincidence considering that the four starters had combined for a 5.37 ERA in September before Gant’s start Wednesday.

Or to put it another way:

From July 19 through Aug. 31, the foursome allowed 43 earned runs in their 152.2 innings.

This month, the four starters have allowed the same number of earned runs, 43 … but in only 72 innings.

Here are the individual ERAs, before and after. On the left side is the ERA for each pitcher between July 19 and Aug. 31. To the right are their September ERAs:

  • Flaherty:  2.28 … 4.50
  • Gomber:  2.68 …   8.15
  • Gant:  3.16 … 4.50
  • Ponce:  2.07 … 4.35

The decline in performance also comes with a shortage of innings.

Gant has lasted fewer than five innings in his five starts this month. Gomber had a six-inning start this month, but contributed a total of only 11.2 innings in his other three starts. Flaherty has turned in six innings (6.1) only one time in five starts. The other four starts ranged between 4.2 and 5.2 innings. In Ponce’s two starts this month, he went 3.1 innings, then 5.1.

The low-innings count has definitely been a minus.

Counting all starts this month — including those made by Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright — the Cardinals’ starters have failed to make it to five innings eight times. Team record: 2-6.  And they’ve lasted fewer than six innings 15 times. Team record: 5-10.

From the start of the season until the final game in August, the Cardinals ranked third in the majors and second in the National League with a starting-pitching ERA of 3.32.

In September, the STL rotation ranks 24th in the majors and 13th in the NL with a 4.69 ERA.

Atlanta, which already has clinched the NL East, ranks 7th in the league this month in rotation ERA at 3.76. How about the other five NL teams that are scrapping for the four available postseason spots?

Here’s how they rank, in order in September starting-pitching:

  • Dodgers, third, 3.33
  • Cubs, tied for fourth, 3.45
  • Brewers, tied for fourth, 3.45
  • Rockies, sixth, 3.60
  • Cardinals, 13th, 4.69

In overall team ERA for September, the Cardinals are down at 11th in the league at 4.86. The other four contenders rank among the NL’s top five in team ERA.

Brewers (first) at 2.77.

Dodgers (second) at 3.10.

Rockies (third) at 3.23.

And the Cubs (fifth) at 3.67.

Big problem for the Cardinals.

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

Thanks for reading …

Bernie

More: No One Is Giving Up, But the Cardinals Can’t Keep Giving Away Games