Cards rotation ends disappointing first month

St. Louis starters posts 4.76 ERA in subpar April

Cards rotation ends disappointing first month

ST. LOUIS -- It was never realistic to hold the Cardinals' rotation to last season's standard, when it became the third unit since 1988 to post a sub-3.00 ERA. But St. Louis also expected this 2016 group to be better than this year's first impression indicates.

One month into a 162-game grind, the Cardinals' rotation has been essentially average, ranking in the middle of the pack in categories such as ERA and opponents' batting average. A so-so start from Jaime Garcia on Saturday concluded the rotation's pedestrian April with a 6-1 loss to the Nationals, who, in contrast, flaunt a 2.31 rotation ERA.

"It's the first month. We have a long season to go," Garcia said. "We're all working hard and pulling for each other and giving it our best. But I definitely think that we are going to be better."

They will have to be better if the Cardinals hope to keep up in the National League Central, where the Cubs already hold a six-game advantage over third-place St. Louis. Though they lead the Majors in runs scored, the Cardinals finished April at 12-12 and with a 1-7 record against the three best clubs they've faced -- the Pirates, Cubs and Nationals. Their desire to race out to a quick start has been stalled mostly because of a porous defense and subpar starting pitching.

That's why a year after losing 15 games in which they scored more than three runs, the Cardinals have already squandered five.

"Each guy, I think they've each shown signs of going in the right direction," manager Mike Matheny said. "But I also believe we're better than what we've shown, and I think they believe the same."

The Cardinals enter May with a 4.76 rotation ERA, more than two runs higher than it was after the team's first 24 games in 2015. They have allowed four-plus runs in a start nine times -- compared to four in the same span last year -- and have five fewer quality starts. The K/BB ratio is down (3.14 to 2.24), while the opponents' batting average is up (.240 to .250).

It's a concern, too, that ace Adam Wainwright has won once in five starts and that the club's prized free-agent signee, Mike Leake, has yet to win at all. Of the rotation's eight victories, No. 5 starter Carlos Martinez has half.

The Cardinals fell to 2-3 behind Garcia with Saturday's loss, the third straight for the team. Garcia allowed a four-run inning, just as Leake did the night before, and has not been able to replicate the success he had in a dazzling shutout of the Brewers on April 14. Since then, Garcia has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) over 16 1/3 innings.

"I mean, my job is to keep us in the ballgame and give us a chance to win, and I didn't do that today," Garcia said. "I have to do a better job next time."

To that, he's not alone.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. 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.