Cards struggling vs. teams with winning records

Cards struggling vs. teams with winning records

LOS ANGELES -- Though the schedule-makers did the Cardinals a favor by piggybacking a pair of road series that required a single round-trip flight to the West Coast, the two halves of this trip to Southern California have thus far highlighted an early-season trend. While able to beat up on those opponents with losing records, the Cardinals still can't find any traction against those playing above .500.

With Saturday night's 5-3 loss to the Dodgers, the Cardinals fell to 4-14 against teams with winning records. Their 15-4 record vs. the rest of the bunch is the reason they're still clinging to a winning mark themselves. But with a nine-game deficit to erase in the National League Central, the Cardinals are going to have to diversify their success some more if they have any hope of chipping away at the Cubs' lead.

The Cardinals opened the road trip by feasting on a wobbly Angels pitching staff, against which they tallied 41 hits and 25 runs. Thirty-one miles away at Dodger Stadium, the same Cardinals team has held a lead for one inning while losing the first two games of the three-game series. On Saturday, the offense was stymied by Dodgers lefty Scott Kazmir, who entered the night with a 5.54 ERA.

Until Jeremy Hazelbaker's pinch-hit two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning, the Cardinals' lone run off Kazmir had come on a sac fly, with the aid of a two-base error and wild pitch.

"You could see guys were having trouble picking it up," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Kazmir's fastball. "He was putting it where he wanted to and had good velocity. He wasn't lacking anything today."

But the night wasn't all that different than so many before it. Carlos Martinez's outing was the seventh of five or fewer innings by a Cardinals starter facing a team with a winning record. The defense committed another error, the team's 34th this season. And the offense went quiet, tallying three hits entering the ninth.

Consider the contrast: When facing teams with a losing record, the Cardinals have averaged 7.84 runs per game and have hit 37 home runs. Against winning clubs, that runs-per-game average droops to 3.22 and the homer total is 16.

That discrepancy in offensive production helps to explain how the Cardinals could have the NL's second-best run differential (plus-46) while being tied for the eighth-best winning percentage.

The Cardinals soared to 100 wins in 2015 largely by winning so many close games. The club was 32-23 in games determined by one run. Those tight affairs have been flipping to their opponents much more often this year, with the Cardinals 2-5 in one-run games and 7-11 in games decided by three or fewer runs.

Friday's was another in that loss column.

"Losses are losses," Matt Carpenter said. "We're not really paying attention to how we're losing and how we're winning. It's a new year with a different team. We're trying to figure out who we are."

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.