Cards hope to get rotation, bats on same page

Offense has awakened, but starting pitching looking to get back on track

Cards hope to get rotation, bats on same page

BALTIMORE -- A rotation that sustained the Cardinals early has emerged as the club's biggest concern now, and the eroding continued in Sunday's 8-5 loss, one punctuated by four more Orioles home runs.

Lance Lynn couldn't save a tested bullpen or yank back momentum following Adam Wainwright's 1 2/3-inning start one day earlier. Instead, he served up too many tee shots for Baltimore, which, taking advantage in its homer-happy park, chased Lynn before he could complete five innings.

Lynn's final inning was particularly problematic, as the six balls put in play against him traveled a combined 2,114 feet. Two went for triples. Two left the park -- and another would have, had Dexter Fowler not robbed Jonathan Schoop. Fourteen starts into his season, Lynn has already matched a career high with 16 home runs allowed.

"It just looked to me like he had more trouble today getting the ball down than he has in the past," manager Mike Matheny said. "This team is built for doing what they've done. We saw this last time we played them. They took advantage of balls that were in favorable counts or got too much of the plate, high in the zone."

But Lynn's struggles are hardly isolated. With their offense awakened and their defense less a liability, the Cardinals have all of a sudden lost that reliable starting pitching that had been their foundation.

The Cards' rotation boasted the Majors' best ERA (3.00) through May 24. Since then, it's ranked as the worst. After 16 earned runs allowed by the starters this weekend, the Cardinals' rotation ERA sits at 5.76 over the team's past 25 games. The club is 8-17 during that span.

"It's happened all at once," Lynn acknowledged.

Aside from a thriving Carlos Martinez, who accounts for four of the team's seven quality starts during that 25-game stretch, question marks abound.

Concerns about Michael Wacha's durability are large enough that the Cards were considering other options for his rotation spot. Wainwright, who allowed nine runs in two of his past three starts, is laboring, and Mike Leake is seeing his results slowly creep closer to career norms. Lynn hasn't lasted six innings in any of his past five starts.

The past five times through the rotation, Martinez has made five starts of at least six innings. The other four starters have combined for six. That inability to partner strong pitching with a potent offense has sunk St. Louis back to six games below .500. On Sunday, struggling to put all the pieces together simultaneously struck players as the reason this team seems stuck in quicksand.

"Tommy [Pham] brought that up when we were in the outfield. It couldn't be more dead on," Stephen Piscotty noted. "That's just been quite a challenge to get on the same page."

Added Pham: "The pitchers were carrying us all year and the offense was struggling, and right now, we're hitting the ball better and we're just not on the same page."

It likely hasn't helped, either, that the starters haven't gotten much of a respite. The Cards are in the middle of a stretch of 47 games in 48 days. Monday's off-day is the last one they'll have for three weeks.

"We keep our head down, keep figuring out ways to get better and keep getting closer to what we want to see as a complete product," Matheny said. "Hopefully we can combine some of this offense with the nice starts we've had most of this season."

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