The Cardinals might be up, 2-1, but their hitters haven't had a good game yet.

"We're lucky," St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog said tonight. "The way we've hit, we could be 0-3."

The Cardinals have been baffled by the maturing power pitching of Danny Jackson, the change-of-speed ballet of Charlie Leibrandt and the superb blend of control and power that is Bret Saberhagen. Against those three Royals starters, the Cardinals have 16 hits in 24 2/3 innings. Largely because of those three men, the Kansas City starting rotation produced more wins (75) than any other in the American League this season.

As Herzog said, luck is a large reason that rotation hasn't produced more wins in this Series. In Saturday night's opener, Jackson held the Cardinals to four hits and one fly ball to the outfield in seven innings. But he lost because of Cesar Cedeno's broken-bat double.

Leibrandt was even more untouchable in the second game, holding St. Louis to two hits through eight innings. The Cardinals didn't hit any balls particularly well in the ninth, but with the placement precision of a scratch golfer, they scored four runs for a 4-2 victory.

Tonight, Saberhagen wasn't any better than his predecessors, just more fortunate. Against St. Louis starter Joaquin Andujar and three relievers, the Royals scored twice as many runs (six) as in the Jackson and Leibrandt games combined (three). There were no broken-bat game winners or birdies from off the green.

So Saberhagen won his six-hitter, 6-1, keeping alive the Series, not to mention several worrisome questions for St. Louis: Are the Cardinals struggling because they've hardly ever seen these pitchers (save for spring training and a younger, inneffective Leibrandt when he had stints with Cincinnati, 1979-82)? Or could Jackson, Leibrandt and Saberhagen dominate them again in games 5, 6 and 7?

Will left-hander Bud Black, another man the Cardinals have never faced outside Florida, also mystify them in Wednesday night's fourth game? And how much do the Cardinals miss Vince Coleman, the 110-steal fuse of their running game? Now that it's official he will miss the entire World Series, will the Cardinals stay stuck in the Kansas City starters' blocks? St. Louis has just two stolen bases in these three games and looks like any other team waiting around for the one big hit.

"We do miss Vince," Herzog said. "And the tougher the other pitcher is, the more we miss him, because we need somebody to get something started.

"But I don't think Vince could have accounted for six runs tonight."

Tito Landrum, the man replacing Coleman in left, has hit as well as any of the Cardinals. But he can't ignite a team with his feet.

"Certainly we miss Vince," Landrum said. "Even when we're down, 6-1, he might have gotten on, stolen a base, and started something."

But St. Louis outfielder Andy Van Slyke won't admit that Coleman's absence could decide the Series.

"No fears about that," Van Slyke said. "This was our first loss (in six games) without Vince. Because we lost one game without him doesn't mean we can't win two in a row now without him."

In three of the five non-Coleman victories, the Cardinals prevailed with dramatic ninth-inning hits. But they haven't had many scoring chances. They can only hope familiarity with these pitchers will breed a few more baserunners in the upcoming games.

"The tougher a pitcher is, the tougher it is facing him for the first time," said St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith.

"I don't know if it's tougher the first time you face them," disagreed Willie McGee, the batting champion. "It's the same little white ball coming over the plate. You've got to give them credit. They're tough."

First baseman Jack Clark said, "I feel more comfortable against a pitcher the second time around." The way this is going, he might see them all again, including Saberhagen in Game 7.