Cards face pitching questions in playoff race

Garcia lasts just 1 inning in loss; Saturday's starter up in air

Cards face pitching questions in playoff race

ST. LOUIS -- Just hours before the opening game of the Cardinals' final homestand went terribly awry, manager Mike Matheny laid out what he hoped would be. In order to see "a great finish here at home," he said, St. Louis, still in the thick of the National League Wild Card race, would need to play "just solid all-out baseball."

That optimism was snuffed out by what followed, as the Cardinals endured arguably their worst performance in this already uneven season. A 15-2 loss to the Reds not only precluded the Cardinals from moving into a tie for the second Wild Card spot, but it foiled an opportunity to generate momentum leading into this final week of the regular season.

Instead, the Cardinals brought forth more questions -- the most pressing being who can the team trust to start a potentially crucial game on Saturday?

"I don't even know," Matheny acknowledged, when asked about his upcoming pitching plans. "I have no idea right now. Yeah, I have no idea."

Jaime Garcia, moved back into the rotation after pitching well in two relief appearances, lasted 21 pitches on Monday night. Four first-inning hits, including two home runs, and three stolen bases was all Matheny needed to see before making his first of six pitching changes.

Garcia's last two starts, though they spanned 13 days, totaled 2 2/3 innings. Monday's one-inning performance was the shortest of his career, and perhaps his last in a Cardinals uniform.

"I know the starting pitcher can keep us in the game and set the pace for the whole team," Garcia said. "I wasn't able to do that tonight. I'm very disappointed in myself. I feel ashamed right now."

Those who followed fared no better. Michael Wacha was on the mound as the Reds pounded out seven runs to essentially put the game away in the fourth. Over 2 2/3 innings, he surrendered nine hits. Luke Weaver allowed five runs to score without finishing an inning. Adam Duvall's three-run homer was the big blow there.

All three could be considered candidates to start on Saturday -- in what could be a crucial game No. 161 -- but none auditioned well at all. By the end of the night, the Cardinals had given up more hits than in any other game during Matheny's managerial era.

"This is one of those," Matheny said, "that you want to forget as quickly as you can."

Offensively, the Cardinals mustered two runs in a career-best seven-inning start by Tim Adleman. They've now scored two or fewer in each of their last eight losses.

It all left the Cardinals "embarrassed," to use Matheny's descriptor, and the smallest Busch Stadium crowd of the year restless. Boos echoed before the Cardinals ever came to bat and rained down heavily by the middle innings. It's a reaction rarely directed to the home team in this ballpark.

"None of us want to be booed," Matheny said. "But people put their hard-earned money into showing up here and that's a freedom they have. We take it very seriously what kind of product we put out there, and if it isn't up to their standards then it isn't."

Matheny went on to defend the team's effort level and preparation, saying both were up to standard. Now, the Cardinals have six days left to channel that into crisper play.

"We know what we have to do to make it, and that's pretty much win," Randal Grichuk said. "We know what's on the line here. It's the end of the year here and we have to win."

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.