The Cardinals have won 5-of-6 games since that 19 inning loss to the Bucs, including 2-of-3 from the Reds. Pittsburgh has lost 5-of-6. It's time to start reversing those numbers if the season is to be salvaged. And there is time, with 35 games left and a soft spot in the schedule coming up, but they have to get it gear before the clock runs out. Regression has played a big role - the defending WS champ Cards were due to play better, and the Bucs to crash some - but some plate discipline and a return to tossing the ball with a purpose is what Pittsburgh needs more than a return to the mean.
What we mean by plate discipline isn't particularly taking a raft of pitches. It means simply laying off pitcher's pitches and balls off the dish to go after stuff in the hitting zone. The Bucs of late have been looking at good pitches, particularly the first strike, and getting themselves into positions where they have to expand the zone to stay alive. More often than not, a little targeted aggression rather than pointless patience is the key.
The team BA and OBP testify to the five-run homer mentality. The team is hitting .245 with a .303 OBP and averaging eight whiffs per game. That was more understandable in April, when they were up against the elite of the league. It's less understandable now, when they're facing the usual gamut of August arms, some top notch and others belonging to minor leaguers on audition.
It would help to get Cutch, The Kid and GI hitting in sync instead of taking turns being hot. We can't help but wonder if as team leaders, they're trying to play beyond themselves to put the club on their back during the stretch. The trio can carry the team through September by simply being themselves.
As for the pitchers, their focus should be on getting the third out and sitting down the bottom of the order more regularly. But that's easier said than done. Yesterday, the Brewers broke on top with two outs. An 0-2 single was followed by a pair of first pitch knocks, one carried the fence. In prior games, the top of the order drew
walks to set up the middle, or the pitcher reached to keep innings alive. We have to think that has as much to do with concentration as delivery; guys get mentally worn down in the dog days as well as physically.
The Bucs have to get back to basics, the kind that help a team grind out the wins when they count. Swing at your pitch and stay aggressive on the mound. If they can simplify their approach, this can still be a September to remember.