Cardinals end rough stretch with tough defeat

Cardinals end rough stretch with tough defeat

Cardinals end rough stretch with tough defeat
ATLANTA -- A stretch of 20 games in 20 days ended on Wednesday with a 10-7 loss to the Braves that featured many of the same shortcomings that have defined this grueling portion of the Cardinals' schedule.

There were miscues in the field, which were magnified by pitching problems. Neither the rotation, nor the bullpen, has been immune.

Unable to secure a series win in front of 28,474 at Turner Field, the Cardinals were instead left challenged by their manager to make the necessary adjustments. Mike Matheny made it clear afterward that using injuries as a crutch or finding contentment in the status quo would be unacceptable for a team that now sits only three games above .500.

"When things don't go right, you start breaking it down and see what adjustments can be made," Matheny said. "You have to do something different, that's all there is to it. They all know that. We all do."

The Cardinals finished 7-13 during this 20-game stretch, one in which the team has watched injuries decimate its roster. Little fault can be placed on the offense, which has averaged 4.8 runs per game over the past 20.

The pitching, on the other hand, has not been up to par.

"I think we need to get back to what was making us successful early on," said Kyle Lohse, who allowed five runs in a five-inning start. "Time to time, we get back in that zone, and then we get away from it. We can't depend on these guys to score seven, eight runs a night."

St. Louis starters have pitched past the sixth only seven times in the past 20 games after doing so in 18 of the first 31. The rotation's ERA during this span is 4.81.

Still, that's better than the mark toted by the bullpen, which has shouldered seven losses and posted a 5.22 ERA since May 11.

All this has led the team to a 7-9 record in games when scoring at least four runs. While racing out to a 20-11 record to begin the year, the Cardinals only dropped two such games.

"We all have to shake ourselves when the offense is doing what it's doing," Matheny said. "Everybody else has to do their part. Whether it's the defensive side, whether it's the pitching side, we just have to be very honest in how we evaluate ourselves and figure out what kind of adjustments we need to make and not accept anything less."

Those adjustments could come in the form of roster moves, though the Cards' Triple-A pool has already been thinned. More than anything, the changes are going to have to be made by those on the roster.

The tone for Wednesday's loss was set early, as Lohse served up two first-inning home runs. Brian McCann poked a two-run homer over the right-field wall. Freddie Freeman took Lohse deep to center two batters later. Both pitches were changeups.

"I didn't feel like my stuff was terrible," said Lohse. "Just certain things weren't going my way."

That was again the case in the third, when the Braves extended their lead to 5-0. With two out, a lack of communication between Rafael Furcal and Matt Holliday led to a Freeman popup falling in for a double. One run scored on the hit. Another would right after.

"I should have caught it," Holliday said afterward.

As has become routine for this offense, the Cardinals did scratch away and eventually erase that lead entirely. After Tim Hudson breezed through three innings with 29 pitches, the Cards used fourth-inning singles from Furcal and Holliday to push across a run.

Two innings later, St. Louis batted around en route to scoring four. Three of those runs scored with two outs. Tyler Greene contributed a two-run single. Daniel Descalso followed with a game-tying one.

"You all are tired of hearing me compliment our offense," Matheny said. "I'm not tired of doing it because they deserve it."

Marc Rzepczynski inherited the tie game and immediately watched it unravel.

An infield single and wild pitch put Jose Constanza in position to score the go-ahead run on Jack Wilson's double, which dropped just in front of right fielder Skip Schumaker. Schumaker suffered a right hamstring injury on the play.

With two outs, Rzepczynski then intentionally walked Martin Prado to bring up the left-handed-hitting McCann.

Hitless in four previous at-bats against Rzepczynski, McCann ripped a two-run single after a passed ball allowed both runners to advance 90 feet. His chopper would have gone right to Furcal had the Cardinals not utilized an infield shift. The shift left third baseman Descalso as the only infielder on the left side, and he wasn't able to make the play.

"He was a little late on it and put it on the ground in the perfect spot," Rzepczynski said. "There's nothing you can really do about that."

The Cardinals employed a shift on McCann throughout the series.

St. Louis squeezed the deficit to one in the eighth, before watching the 'pen stumble again. This time it was Jason Motte, brought in an inning earlier than usual, who allowed two runs on three walks and a hit.

Matheny had turned to Motte because Eduardo Sanchez and Victor Marte were unavailable due to recent overuse. That left Chuckie Fick and Brandon Dickson as the only other available relievers and both are highly inexperienced.

Aside from the offense, perhaps the most encouraging part of Wednesday was what is to follow. For the first time in three weeks, the Cardinals left the ballpark knowing they'd have the benefit of resetting with an off-day.

"Things just aren't going to work out just the way you want it to," Holliday said. "We have injuries. We have guys banged up. We just have to battle through it. We just have to keep playing hard. We have to play better. We have to find ways to win games instead of finding ways to lose them."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.