ST. LOUIS -- The fielding foibles that had been so prevalent early this season resurfaced on Thursday, costing the Cardinals the chance to extend their season-best eight-game winning streak.A trio of defensive hiccups sunk the Cards in a 5-4 loss to the Nationals that leaves them 1 1/2 games back
ST. LOUIS -- The fielding foibles that had been so prevalent early this season resurfaced on Thursday, costing the Cardinals the chance to extend their season-best eight-game winning streak.
A trio of defensive hiccups sunk the Cards in a 5-4 loss to the Nationals that leaves them 1 1/2 games back of the Brewers in both the National League Central and Wild Card races as Milwaukee arrives in town for a key weekend series. St. Louis trails the Cubs by five games in the division.
"We've been playing great baseball," Luke Weaver said after his 3 2/3-inning start. "This is just a part of the game. You run into a game where things get out of sync a little bit, balls aren't finding holes and a lot of things. You can only win so many games in a row before you lose one, whether you like it or not. Today was one of those days."
The Cardinals committed their ninth three-error game of the season, but just their second under Mike Shildt, who, upon taking over as interim manager last month, cited defensive improvement as a second-half priority. That additional focus seems to be paying off, too. The Cardinals had made just five errors and allowed one unearned run en route to opening August with 12 wins in 14 games.
But things weren't so clean on Thursday. Matt Carpenter's inability to glove what should have been the second out of a 2-1 game in the fourth ended Weaver's start and extended the inning to Bryce Harper, who tagged reliever Tyson Ross for a two-run single.
The Nationals then enjoyed two extra outs in the fifth because of errors by Kolten Wong and Ross. Another unearned run scored when Ross fumbled a ground ball.
"It was just tough because I was rushing," Ross said. "I just kind of clanked it a little bit and wasn't able to recover, and ultimately that led to [a run] right there."
By the end of the frame, Washington held a 5-1 lead.
"Completely uncharacteristic," Shildt said of the miscues in the field. "You prove that there's a human element to the game. A couple plays, clearly, that we expect to make and will make. It just didn't go our way there for a little bit."
St. Louis clawed back with three two-out runs against starter Tanner Roark in the sixth, but couldn't muster much other momentum against Washington's wobbly bullpen. One last gasp fell short in the ninth as Yadier Molina flew out after Jose Martinez and Carpenter reached with two out.
"There's no one else we'd rather have at the plate there," Shildt said. "I appreciate the effort, coming back and putting the energy behind what we did. We put ourselves in position with the winning run on base in the ninth. I just liked the way the guys competed."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Though it didn't impact the final score, Brett Cecil's scoreless appearance represented an encouraging step forward for the lefty reliever. Refreshed after talking through mental approaches with former Cardinal Chris Carpenter while recovering from an ailing foot, Cecil returned from the disabled list with a 1-2-3 inning to keep the deficit at one in the eighth. Cecil, who had been hit at a .262 clip by lefties this season, retired both left-handed hitters (Adam Eaton and Harper) that he faced.
"He wants leverage situations," Shildt said. "It was a good opportunity for him to get out there, based on where we were in the game and what we have. I was really pleased how he came back on Eaton after a 3-1 count and made two quality pitches. Made a good pitch on [Trea] Turner. Then he put a nice sequence together on Harper. Positives for Brett."
Carpenter drew a pair of walks to extend his on-base streak to 33 games. It's the third-longest such streak in the Majors this season, trailing only Odubel Herrera (40) and Shin-Soo Choo (52). The franchise record is 55 games, set by Stan Musial in 1943.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Harrison Bader drove in the Cardinals' first run with his 12th career home run -- but the first to come at Busch Stadium. Bader has scored in eight straight games, tying Carpenter for the team high this year. Bader has homered in three of his last seven games and has four multihit games in his last seven.
HE SAID IT
"You hate to make any excuses, but when you're not getting in there and getting into your routine, it can fall out of place a little bit. Tonight was strictly a mechanical aspect. The ball was just coming out a little too early, a little too late. I just wasn't finding that rhythm." -- Weaver, on making his first start in 10 days
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Cardinals were unsuccessful in their attempt to erase a run by requesting a replay review of Eaton's slide into home ahead of Molina's tag in the fourth. The initial out call was confirmed following a 78-second review.
The National League Central race will take center stage in St. Louis on Friday as the Cardinals welcome the Brewers to town for a three-game series. The club pushed Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA) back a day so that he'd start the 7:15 p.m. CT series opener. In 12 innings against the Brewers this season, Flaherty has allowed two runs and struck out 22. He'll face right-hander Freddy Peralta (5-3, 4.47 ERA).
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.