Cardinals won't panic amid worst stretch of year

Cardinals won't panic amid worst stretch of year

CINCINNATI -- A trip to Great American Ball Park that the Cardinals had hoped would serve as a springboard to get back on track has instead only muddied the complexion of a National League Central race that the division leaders no longer have such tight control over.

Mired in their worst 10-game stretch of the season, the Cardinals have seen the Pirates' division deficit close to 2 1/2 games and the Cubs' to 5 1/2. The rivals will take the field knowing the opening is there, as the Cardinals, despite a promising start, fell, 5-1, to the Reds in a rain-soaked affair.

The loss was not only the team's third in a row to open its final season series in Cincinnati, but also the eighth in 10 games for a team that entered September appearing as if it might cruise to the finish line. The Cardinals' path to a third straight division title will no longer be so smooth.

And yet ...

"There is no need and there is no feeling of panic here," Matt Carpenter said. "Teams that end up doing that end up falling out of this deal. Every year you go through a stretch where it doesn't look good. We've been fortunate enough not to have one all season. Now we're seeing it. It's not an ideal time for it to come. But at the same time, we're not panicking."

The timing certainly does magnify the funk. The last two seasons, the team hit its stride in September. Last year, the Cardinals used a 17-9 record over the final month to leapfrog the Brewers and hold off the Pirates. A year earlier, they wrapped up a division title with a 19-8 finish.

What was forgotten by the end of those seasons, though, were the dips that had come earlier. The Cardinals endured a 2-8 stretch last year, though it was over by the first week of June. In 2013, the club went 4-13 during a period that covered the July non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"We'll see what happens at the end of the month," said Lance Lynn, who took the loss Saturday. "It's a good thing the regular season doesn't end until a couple days into October. There is some time to get things right here."

Over this 10-game stretch, the Cardinals have been outscored, 61-23, and outhomered, 15-4. They've struck out in nearly one-third of their at-bats. The pitching staff has an ERA of 5.79, with the starters' mark a tick higher (6.00). It's all uncharacteristic of a team that, despite flat-lining, still paces the Majors with 88 wins.

While the players did summon their own players-only meeting a few days ago to discuss recent events, Mike Matheny has resisted from casting the image of a worried manager.

"The way to get out of this is to really focus on the fact of how we were doing things for [132] games and realize that that's what it needs to look like," Matheny said. "We set the bar early of what it needs to look like. ... I get it that down the [stretch], people are putting a magnifying glass [on results], and that's fine. It's just not fine for us. You have to expect that you're going to have bad stretches. And the best way to get through them is to stay the course."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.