Forget mystique, mental skills, getting over “humps,” and differences in experience.
The Cardinals are simply better than the Cubs. They have more very good players who play better baseball than the young, transitioning Cubs.
And what they do best is what the Cubs figure to have the most trouble trying to catch over the next few years – never mind the next few months – as they chase the National League Central gate keepers.
They pitch like nobody else in the game, from top starter to the last guy in a bullpen with five ERAs under 2.00.
If the Cubs didn’t know it after the first two series against the Cardinals this year, they felt it like a foot on their throats during a three-game sweep by the Cardinals that ended with a twice-delayed 4-1 loss on a soggy night at Busch Stadium.
“Obviously, you look at their numbers, they’re ridiculous,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the Cardinals’ pitching – which held the Cubs to four runs over the three games.
Those numbers include: A 2.61 team ERA that leads the majors, including a 2.89 rotation ERA and 2.01 bullpen ERA – both of which also lead the majors.
And they’re 43-10 when they score more than two runs in a game – an 81-percent clip.
This even after losing ace Adam Wainwright in April to a season-ending injury.
Nobody on the active pitching roster has an ERA higher than John Lackey’s 3.35.
“There’s no denying that they’re good,” said rookie Addison Russell, who went 1-for-10 in the series with five strikeouts.
He wasn’t alone. Russell, fellow rookie Kris Bryant and even lineup linchpin Anthony Rizzo combined to go just 4-for-31 with only one extra-base hit in the series.
In fact, only five of the Cubs’ 25 hits in the series went for extra bases, compared to 14 of the Cardinals’ 27.
And the Cubs were just 2-for-27 with men in scoring position – including 0-for-10 Sunday.
“We’ve seen really good pitching the last week. Really good,” Maddon said. “We’ve seen the Dodger pitching, you’ve seen the Cardinal pitching that’s really good pitching. And you have a young, inexperience group offensively that’s being schooled right now a little bit.”
Of course, it was hard to blame experience Sunday, considering the Cardinals’ starter was 23-year-old Carlos Martinez (9-3), who’s in his first full season as a big-league starter.
“Eventually, it’s going to come back to us,” said Maddon, who welcomed the off day Monday. “They’re going to benefit from it, and we will down the road. For right now they got us. I get it, and I concede in that regard. But I thought we pitched well and played really good defense. We did a lot of things well and just could not get the hit.”
It was the first time this season the Cubs have been swept in a series.
And it might not get much easier after Monday’s off day when the Cubs open a three-game series against the pitching-rich New York Mets – trying to snap their longest losing streak of the season.
That five-game stretch has included only six runs. In fact, the last time the Cubs won, on Tuesday, they scored only one run – and needed 10 innings to do that.
Maddon said one of his big takeaways from the weekend series in St. Louis that knocked the Cubs out of wild-card playoff position was that the Cubs made only one error – their only error in their last seven games.
Of course, it was on the 10th-inning throw to the plate by Mike Baxter that sailed wide and ended Friday’s loss.
That’s the kind of week it’s been for a team that has four more games in a three-day span against these Cardinals next week at home.
“It’s not like we got blown out here,” said Cubs starter Jason Hammel (5-3), whose four-inning start was impacted by 1-hour, 43-minute delay in the second inning. “Couple bad innings we had that ended up costing us. That happens to the best teams. Peaks and valleys. You just want to make the valleys shorter and the peaks higher longer.
“We’ll lick our wounds, come back, take an off day, and be ready in New York.”