ST. LOUIS — Just like last season, the St. Louis Cardinals have stumbled out of the gate.
Knowing they led the major leagues with 105 victories last year and won the team’s first NL pennant in 17 seasons keeps them calm about their mediocre 2-3 start.
“We’re definitely dragging a little bit and we’re not playing the best baseball we can play,” pitcher Chris Carpenter said. “But I wouldn’t put any question into what kind of ability we have and what kind of team we have.
“Go back and look at last year and see how we started. Give us a few months and we’ll go from there.”
The Cardinals dropped three of four at home against the Brewers to start the 2004 season, got swept at Houston at home later that month and were 12-11 at the end of April. But from June on, they closed with a 78-34 rush and outscored the opposition by nearly 200 runs.
“You’re always concerned,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It’s not how we came out here to play. But whatever it is, I’m sure we’ll fix it.”
Some Cardinal feel a day off might help. They got one Monday before beginning a two-game series against the Reds today at home. Center fielder Jim Edmonds was critical of the team’s finish to spring training, a barnstorming tour that featured stops in Oklahoma City and Springfield, Mo., the new site of the Cardinals’ Double A franchise.
La Russa considered the side trip a positive experience in that it included a pair of night games in cities players have never seen and adulation in Springfield.
Without a break besides one practice at Busch Stadium on Thursday, Edmonds felt it might have been tougher for the Cardinals to turn the page from spring training to the regular season.
“You have a long spring training and you’re in there and you think you’re ready and you hear the questions, ‘Are you ready, are you ready, are you ready?’” Edmonds said. “You never know until it starts.
“Obviously, we weren’t ready enough, and we need to make adjustments and move forward.”
After splitting the first two games of the season in Houston, the Cardinals led for a half-inning in their dismal three-game series against the Phillies. Shaky starting pitching saddled the team with big early deficits each game. Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan and Chris Carpenter — who combined for 48 victories last year — all were off of their game.
The offense also is out of sync. Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds were a combined 6-for-32 with four RBIs in the Phillies series — reminiscent of that trio’s 6-for-45, one RBI World Series showing.
Phillies pitchers Gavin Floyd and Jon Lieber were dominating against everybody the last two games of the series.
“It seemed like we were a little bit behind on our swings,” Edmonds said. “Guys were getting beat pretty often and that’s unusual. Some of the pitchers have maybe turned it up a notch and we haven’t yet.”
Edmonds noted that pitchers were pounding the St. Louis hitters inside, and then issued a warning.
“If they want to challenge, let them go ahead and keep challenging,” he said. “Eventually it’s going to get ugly for the other team.”