Cards upbeat despite stale start

Sweep by Bucs leaves Redbirds 0-3 for 1st time since '07

Cards upbeat despite stale start

PITTSBURGH -- The strong note with which they wrapped up spring turned flat upon the Cardinals' arrival in Pittsburgh, where, with a 5-1 loss to the Pirates on Wednesday, they were swept out of town with their first 0-3 start to a season since 2007.

There's nothing else about that '07 season that this club would like to repeat, either, as that was the last Cardinals team to finish below .500. It ended the season with 78 wins. This team is trying to extend a string of three consecutive division titles.

The Cardinals' stale start to this year has a wide array of contributors. About the only group that was immune was the bullpen, which, with 3 2/3 more innings of solid coverage on Wednesday, has allowed three runs over 11 innings. Though the positives pretty much end there, manager Mike Matheny cautioned against conclusions afterward.

"I'm going to refuse to throw this big summary," he said. "It was three different games."

A rotation that sought to repeat the success it had a year ago, when it posted a 2.99 ERA, has not offered a strong first impression. Combined, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Mike Leake allowed 23 hits and 11 earned runs over 14 2/3 innings. They issued as many walks (seven) as they notched strikeouts, and Leake's 4 1/3-inning Cardinals debut on Wednesday meant the Cardinals had to turn to their bullpen in the fifth inning for a second consecutive day.

Last year, in contrast, the Cardinals did not have a starter get chased before finishing at least five innings until April 25, the team's 16th game of the season. It happened two times total in April 2015, a mark the Cardinals matched in their opening series.

Wainwright, Wacha and Leake, all of whom had made positive strides in their last spring starts, each left their season debuts still searching -- Wainwright, for his curveball; Wacha, for his changeup; and Leake, for fastball command.

"It's early," Leake said. "We're all right. We're three games into it. I think we just need to slow down and play competitive baseball. I don't foresee us allowing it to snowball. I think it was just either we weren't ready or they just beat us."

However, this wasn't all about ineffective pitching. Defensively, the Cardinals committed four errors and misplayed a handful of other balls, including one off the right-field wall that Stephen Piscotty misread on Wednesday. It resulted in a leadoff triple for the Pirates, who scored three runs in the fifth-inning frame.

There were limited highlights on the offensive end, too, as the Cardinals tallied 37 strikeouts over 116 plate appearances and finished the series 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position. On Wednesday, they didn't take an at-bat with a runner in scoring position until the eighth.

"It's too early to be concerned with anything," Matt Carpenter said. "We just didn't hit. [Our] pitching wasn't awful. We were in the games. We just didn't hit. Nobody really got hot in our lineup. Part of that is they pitched well, and another part is we couldn't get in a groove. But we will, and once we hit, we'll be fine."

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.