Sloppy play has Cardinals off to worst start in decades

NEW YORK — Yadier Molina reached for a ball in the dirt the other day at Yankee Stadium, the sort of pitch he usually smothers with ease using his chest protector and a square set of shoulders.

This time, though, he tried to make a backhand stab with his mitt as the ball skipped by.

Poor technique, to be frank, from an eight-time Gold Glove winner widely considered one of the greatest defensive catchers in baseball history. Molina knew it, too, and slammed his mask to the ground as he chased toward the backstop.

It’s just two weeks into the season, but something seems off about the St. Louis Cardinals.

Molina is only one example. Long known for winning The Cardinal Way, St. Louis entered Monday with the worst record (3-9) in the National League and its poorest start since 1988 courtesy of shoddy play all over the diamond.

“I think it’s magnified when it happens this early,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Rightfully so.”

For an organization that takes immense pride in attention to detail and executing properly, all the ugly miscues have been startling.

St. Louis had committed 10 errors, plunked seven batters and thrown five wild pitches through Sunday. Not to mention the 44 walks issued by a pitching staff sporting an NL-high 4.98 ERA.

The 34-year-old Molina, recently signed to a $60 million contract covering 2018-20, has permitted a passed ball in each of the past two games.

And the bullpen thus far? Yikes.

“The answer is work right now,” Matheny said. “We’ve got to work hard but work smart, making sure that we’re attacking the little things that we’re seeing that are keeping us from the results that we’re looking for.”

The hitters have hardly been immune.

The Cardinals were batting .212 with just 42 total runs, next-to-last in both categories among NL teams. Their slugging percentage of .332 was by far the lowest in the league.

“We all know that we’re going to bounce out of this funk sooner than later,” said Matt Adams, batting .174. “But it’s believing in ourselves and believing in this team. We know that we’re a good team.”

Even in mid-April with 150 games to go, it’s strange to see St. Louis at the bottom of the standings. After all, this is a club that made 12 playoff appearances in 16 seasons from 2000-15 — five straight before falling one game short last year at 86-76.

But this season, a walk-off win on opening night against the World Series champion Chicago Cubs has been about the only major highlight.

Swept this past weekend by the New York Yankees, the Cardinals hoped to find their footing back home. They took an overnight flight to St. Louis where they began a three-game series Monday evening against Pittsburgh with a 2-1 win.

“The thing that I like when you have a good start is it’s something that you just, you go back to. You go back to, hey, remember, this is what we do,” Matheny said.