Shaky defense contributing to Cardinals' woes

Shaky defense contributing to Cardinals' woes

WASHINGTON -- Having fallen one game short of the postseason with an offensively-driven club last season, the Cardinals sought to self-correct in 2017. But the redesign -- which was supposed to boast improved defense and pitching -- looks more like the original than the Cardinals would have preferred.

The sample size is small, but the product has been frustratingly familiar for a team that, after an 8-3 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday, has dropped six of its last seven games. Lance Lynn had his start complicated by defensive issues behind him and also served up a trio of solo home runs, all on pitches up in the zone.

It's the Cardinals' first 2-6 start to a season since 2011. That year, of course, ended with a World Series championship. If this club hopes to make a similar run, it will require cleaning up the ragged play that stalled any positive momentum coming out of Spring Training.

"It's tough," third baseman Jhonny Peralta said. "We're trying to win the games. It's not happening right now. We need to keep going. It's only one week, two weeks. I know a lot of things can change."

Things turned askew in the third inning on Tuesday when a groundball eluded Peralta and then handcuffed shortstop Aledmys Diaz. What could have been a potential inning-ending double play didn't even result in one out. Lynn, who hadn't helped himself with a four-pitch walk to the pitcher earlier in the frame, allowed a go-ahead, two-run single to Daniel Murphy three batters later.

Had the double play been turned, Lynn would have been out of the inning on 14 pitches. Instead, he required 31.

"Same conversation we had last night," manager Mike Matheny said afterward, acknowledging the string of defensive deficiencies. "Yeah, there were times we could have helped out."

Two Cardinals errors helped the Nationals to three unearned runs. The club has committed seven errors in eight games, though that number doesn't account for several other plays not made that could have been.

It's the sort of untidy play that the Cardinals insisted they wouldn't settle for, a year after ranking 24th in the Majors in Defensive Efficiency. Heading into Tuesday's game, the Cardinals had already fallen to 25th in those rankings to start the year.

It's a comparison that Matheny said may not be fair given not only the small sample size, but also the new faces. Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Matt Carpenter and Peralta all started the season at positions they weren't at a year ago.

"It's a different team, different year," Matheny said. "Just what we're doing right now isn't good enough. We have to get better. That's all there is to it."

The club's clumsy start can't be entirely attributed to porous defense, though. Through eight games, the offense is slashing .218/.302/.324 and the pitchers have a collective 5.40 ERA.

"We have to pitch better. We have to score runs. And we have to play defense," Lynn said, stating the obvious. "If we start doing that, we'll be fine."

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