It was only a season ago that the St. Louis Cardinals were baseball's most exciting team, but seeing the Cardinals today makes 1985 seem long ago and far away.

Remember clutch hitting? The Cardinals had the best in the National League last season, mostly because second baseman Tommy Herr and first baseman Jack Clark were so good. No more. In the Cardinals' first 36 games this season, Herr's batting average did not exceed .167, and he had hit .086 with runners in scoring position (three for 35).

Clark had hit .125 with runners in scoring position (three for 24) and left a ton of runners on second. In all, three St. Louis regulars were batting under .180 through Thursday, and the Cardinals have scored three runs or fewer in 25 of their first 38 games.

Remember their starting pitching? Last season, John Tudor and Danny Cox combined for 39 victories. This season, they have one in their last 13 starts.

Remember National League most valuable player Willie McGee? He got his first double of the season Thursday.

So, a season after an umpire's blown call may have cost them the World Series, the Cardinals are 16-22 and are buried in the NL East.

"Our defense is not as good as last year," Manager Whitey Herzog said. "Our hitting is not as good as last year. And our bullpen is not as good as last year. It adds up to last place."

Manager Has Words

Herzog has taken the Cardinals' slump better than Cleveland Manager Pat Corrales is taking one by the Indians. As his team was turning an 8-0 lead into a 12-9 loss Tuesday night, Corrales walked onto the field during an inning and yelled at his infielders for misplaying a couple of grounders.

"I told 'em I was not pleased with the way they were playing," Corrales told reporters after the game. "That's not quite the way I phrased it. If you want me to put it the way I said it, I will, but since all of you have editors, I guess I won't." . . .

"Tomorrow, I'll Be Perfect," the book Toronto pitcher Dave Stieb has written about himself, will be out this month, and just in time, too. Stieb is 0-6 with a 6.83 ERA, and after a 6-4 loss Monday he blamed Lloyd Moseby for not catching a fly ball.

"I've seen him make that catch before," he said. "I believe it was because I was out there."

Stieb is only part of the Blue Jays' problems. First baseman Willie Upshaw has not hit a home run since April 10.

Say this for the Blue Jays, though: They're at least consistent. They went 9-11 in April and started 10-13 in May . . . The Los Angeles Dodgers may be close to a shakeup, as they're apparently considering moving pitcher Alejandro Pena and infielder Len Matuszek back on the roster and releasing Cesar Cedeno. Yesterday, they released Terry Whitfield.

Cedeno signed a $200,000 contract after Pedro Guerrero was hurt, and the Dodgers hoped a Cedeno-Franklin Stubbs platoon could ease Guerrero's loss. It hasn't. Mike Marshall is carrying the offense, and Cedeno had four RBI in 67 at-bats through Friday.

Whitfield, who had 14 pinch-hits last season and was one of the best in the game, was only one for 12 this season.

There appears to be no reason to bring Pena back, other than to find out if his career is over. He had rotator cuff surgery last season, and although he says he's having no pain, he's throwing in the low- to mid-80-mph range and went 0-2 with a 7.54 ERA in four rehabilitation starts at Class A Vero Beach . . .

No team has been a more pleasant surprise than the Atlanta Braves, who have recovered from a 7-12 April to start 14-7 in May and, until Friday, had a seven-game winning streak.

The difference? First baseman Bob Horner hit .194 and had two homers and nine RBI in April. Through Friday, he had hit .305 (22 for 72) with five homers and 21 RBI in May.

The Braves privately have maintained that they'll go as far as Horner takes them. More evidence of that is that the only season he played more than 130 games (1982), the Braves won a division championship.

"We should just tie a rope around him and let him take us for a ride," Braves catcher Ozzie Virgil said.Out of Order

When reporters got to the office of New York Yankees Manager Lou Piniella after owner George Steinbrenner had changed pitching coaches, they found that someone had ripped the telephone from the wall.

Still, the Yankees appear the team most likely to win the AL East, mainly because they're close to first place and haven't even played well yet. Through Thursday, they had left more runners on base (315) than any team in baseball, and they also had only two complete games from their pitchers . . .

Atlanta Manager Chuck Tanner on the New York Mets: "Whoever is going to win the American League better start scouting the Mets. I mean, right now. In fact, I'm going to ask Davey Johnson for 12 good seats to the World Series." . . . Odd stat of the week: The Tigers and the Yankees are dead last in American League road attendance. The Yankees have been No. 1 in road attendance since about 1912 . . .

The Cubs have asked the Wrigley Field neighborhood groups to allow the construction of lights at the stadium and promise they'll never play more than 18 regular-season night games there.

General Manager Dallas Green said the team will move to a new stadium in the suburbs if lights aren't installed, but if they are he said the Cubs will stay there forever.n he played more than 130 games (1982), the Braves won a division champi