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ANTA -- Being scrappy, gritty and spunky is terrific. It is exceeded only by being scrappy, gritty, spunky and winning.
The St. Louis Cardinals have lost key players to injuries. It appears that they have not lost their competitive edge. This is a team obviously competing on a nightly basis. It has the scrappy part down. Lately, though, the winning has been mostly beyond the Redbirds' range.
There are no excuses. This is why, when the Cardinals played Wednesday night, it did not matter that they had only four position players of their hoped-for 2012 regulars in the starting lineup.
It would be nice if they could still have their lineup from Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, but they don't and they won't and it is time now to make do with what they have. Recently, this has been a particular problem. What they have has been dwindling due to a series of injuries.
The Cardinals have lost 13 of their last 20, including a 10-7 defeat Wednesday night at the hands of the Atlanta Braves. The Braves had lost eight in a row before defeating the Cardinals the last two nights.
The Cardinals showed grit in both games, and a relentless offense, coming back from deficits. They were down, 5-0, Wednesday night and came back to tie it. But their bullpen surrendered five runs after that. Two Atlanta runs had already been scored in the third after a towering popup that had to be caught by somebody was caught by nobody. Left fielder Matt Holliday came in a considerable distance, shortstop Rafael Furcal went back, but the ball fell to earth untouched.
"I should have caught it," Holliday said.
That seemed like a reasonable assessment.
"We're not pitching as well as we did earlier in the season," said Kyle Lohse, the St. Louis starter Wednesday night. "We can't depend on these guys to score seven or eight runs a night."
It did not seem possible that the Cardinals' injury situation could deteriorate any further. But then it did. Carlos Beltran was held out of the starting lineup due to a knee problem. He pinch-hit in the eighth, delivered an RBI infield single, then departed for a pinch-runner. David Freese was held out of the lineup for the third straight game with a sore wrist, although he did pinch-hit in the seventh and stayed in to play third. Freese had to pinch-hit for Skip Schumaker who has played second, center and right this season. Schumaker hurt his right hamstring. He will return to St. Louis for tests, but he is not optimistic.
"It feels like I pulled my hamstring," he said. "It's not good. If I had to guess, it's probably DL."
If Schumaker goes on the disabled list Thursday, he will be the sixth Cardinal to do so this month. There are seven Cardinals on the DL.
"I've never seen anything like it," Schumaker said. "I've never seen so many guys at one time [on the DL]. We have a very good team on the DL right now."
But baseball provides no mechanism for taking time out until everybody feels better.
"Not going to get any sympathy in this league, so no sense trying to ask for it," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Matheny has seen enough Cardinals comebacks this season to be convinced of his team's offense quality and collective character. Some adjustments, he said Wednesday night, will be required in the rest of the Cardinals' game. The Cardinals have been tested with 20 games in 20 days, some difficult travel, and the injuries that seemed to occur almost every day.
"It's taken its toll on us with the injuries," Matheny said. "Guys pushing. We've had I don't know how many tight games, but it's been a lot of them. And a lot of come-from-behinds, which are draining physically and mentally. So it's been a tough run. Tough travel. We've had a good, tough run here. It's a good test; see what you're made of, might as well find out sooner or later.
"We've had more than our share of not quite coming back and not quite overcoming the deficit. That's happened more than anything else. We haven't had that real long, solid stretch of just dominating, which I believe this team has the ability to do."
When it was suggested to Matheny that perhaps the worst must be over, he refused to take the easy way out.
"I wouldn't begin to say that because I know how quickly this game will humble you," the manager said. "What I see is a team that could be seven, eight games the other way in the win column, with a lot of opportunities we've had and a lot of games where we showed fight and it just didn't turn out right. We ran out of time, normally. I think those things add up, I really do. I think it helps define the character, the grit. Then once you get clicking, you're hard to stop, because when you're down, you're not going to be down long. When things are going good, guys thrive on it."
The Cardinals, all banged up, are still scrapping and still leading the National League in runs scored. But Wednesday night marked the sixth time in the last 20 games that they had scored five or more runs but still lost. Even scrappy, gritty and spunky have their limits, when the pitching isn't what it needs to be.