Starting-pitching woes proving costly to Cards

Starting-pitching woes proving costly to Cards

ST. LOUIS -- In the minutes following Wednesday's 9-8 defeat to the Cubs at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals' clubhouse was brewing with a mélange of frustration and satisfaction. It was a group irked that it had fallen just short, yet still proud of the spirited comeback that positioned it one ninth-inning hit away from stealing a win.

But while the offense's feisty performance may have provided a silver lining, the reality is that another short and ineffective starting-pitching performance left the club in a spot where it had to chip away.

For the second straight game, the Cardinals endured a six-run inning at the hands of the Cubs. This time, Chicago sent 11 batters to the plate in the second against Carlos Martinez, who gave up five two-out hits in the frame. By the time it was over, Jake Arrieta -- who hasn't lost a game in 10 months -- enjoyed a five-run cushion.

"It's no secret here. We just can't keep putting up six-run innings and expect to stay in the game," manager Mike Matheny said. "The bullpen did a nice job, but overall, that's just a lot of ground to cover."

The outing was hardly an anomaly, either.

Over the team's last 13 games, the Cardinals have watched their starters give up at least six runs in a start five times. The complications in the rotation stretch back to the start of the year, which is how the club has landed 21st in the Majors with a 4.56 rotation ERA.

It's the reason, too, that a team leading the National League in runs scored with 258 left for a seven-game road swing on Wednesday night sitting one game over .500.

"Our pitchers have been our go-to the past few years, and it's time for us to step up," second baseman Kolten Wong said. "They always have our backs, and it's time for us to have their backs."

The offense, however, can only do so much. After going 28-0 when scoring seven or more runs last season, the Cardinals have already taken four losses with that sort of offensive output in 2016. The club has lost nine games in which it's scored at least four runs.

The onus of the rotation's shortcomings hasn't just fallen on the offense, either. The bullpen has been covering innings in a frenzy of late, and has handled 35 percent of the team's innings thus far. In nine of the team's last 13 games, the Cardinals haven't been able to push their starter past the fifth.

"I think our starting pitchers would be the first to make that statement that we haven't been able to make that run that we need to do what we need to do as a club," Matheny said. "This starts with our starting pitching. We have to have defensive support. That hasn't been to where we need it to be at this point yet. It's a combination of things, but we always put a premium on those quality starts and guys giving us a chance right from the beginning."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.