CHICAGO -- A nine-game road trip -- their longest to date this season -- came to a quiet end on Wednesday, leaving the Cardinals to return home in much the same state they were in when this three-city swing began. They remain a club unable to accelerate, but rather stuck
CHICAGO -- A nine-game road trip -- their longest to date this season -- came to a quiet end on Wednesday, leaving the Cardinals to return home in much the same state they were in when this three-city swing began. They remain a club unable to accelerate, but rather stuck running in place.
Wednesday's 4-0 loss to the White Sox followed a 14-run outburst that positioned the Cardinals to snag a pair of wins from a club that had dropped six straight. Instead, St. Louis escaped with a two-game split, leaving the Cards with a 5-4 finish to a road trip that, while not futile, also wasn't as fruitful as they would have liked.
"It was a tough trip, long trip," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I thought guys played hard, even in games like this. We get right back into it in the eighth. We get a chance to make them a little nervous even in the ninth, and I think that's something we've seen from this team all year."
Indeed, the Cardinals weren't totally tripped up by stops at Arizona, San Francisco and Chicago. They didn't lose any of the three series, but still lost ground in the National League Central. While the Cardinals search for consistency and traction, the Brewers and Cubs are enjoying some.
Since the Cardinals last played at Busch Stadium, Milwaukee has increased its lead over them to seven games. The Cubs, who sit 1 1/2 games back of the Brewers, distanced themselves from the Cardinals as well. The Cards are four games back in the race for the second NL Wild Card.
For a team trying to convince management to settle in as buyers before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the results left much to be desired.
"We're still winning," Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong said. "All I know is we've got all the parts clicking at the right time right now. We're going into the All-Star break, everybody on a high note, so we're excited for the second half."
There has been some excitement building around the offense, which showed bursts of its potential while scoring 42 runs in the team's five victories this trip. However, consistency over an extended stretch remains elusive. After setting a season high in runs scored one night earlier, the Cardinals were stymied Wednesday by White Sox starter Carlos Rodon, who tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings. They went 0-for-10 with six strikeouts when hitting with a runner on base.
"I think the blowout wins are a good sign for our offense, and our team in general, but I think our starting pitching has been really good and we've just got to … figure out what we can do a little bit better," Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong said. "Today, it was striking out too much, instead of putting the ball in play. When that happens, you rely too much on the long ball, and if you don't get it, you end up losing."
Without a cushion, Cardinals starter Luke Weaver took his eighth loss, despite allowing one run on three hits over six innings. A leadoff walk bruised him in the fifth, but the outing was otherwise a continuation of his previous one, when Weaver retired the first 16 batters he faced.
The rotation had a strong trip, finishing with a 3.04 ERA and seven quality starts. The bullpen, which was nicked for three runs off Mike Mayers and Jordan Hicks on Wednesday, did not perform as well. The unit allowed 14 earned runs over 23 2/3 innings.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Cards can't break through: Offensive opportunities were scarce for the Cardinals, but they pieced together a rally to chase Rodon in the eighth. Following an error by second baseman Yoan Moncada, Matt Carpenter drew a walk to load the bases with one out. But Tommy Pham, facing reliever Juan Minaya, struck out for the fourth time in the game, and Jose Martinez struck out on three pitches against Joakim Soria. Martinez entered the night leading the Majors with 20 hits and 25 RBIs with runners in scoring position and two outs. St. Louis stranded five runners over the final two frames.
"That one in the eighth is definitely our opportunity to make something happen, and unfortunately, they bring some pretty good arms out of the 'pen," Matheny said. "You'd like to see a ball put in play, put some pressure on the defense. But they got the best of us there."
HE SAID IT
"I knew I had to bring my best stuff, just like tonight. … You knew that he wasn't going to give up any runs, and I tried to do the same. So it was a lot of fun then, and a lot of fun tonight, and good game for him." -- Weaver, when asked about the numerous times he faced Rodon during their college days in the Atlantic Coast Conference
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Cardinals used their challenge unsuccessfully while trying to stop the White Sox from stirring in the first inning. After Moncada drew a leadoff walk, Yolmer Sanchez hit a grounder that took first baseman Carpenter to his right. Carpenter gloved the ball and flipped to Weaver, who raced over to cover the bag. But it took Weaver two tries to tag the base. Sanchez was ruled safe, and it was determined that there was not enough replay evidence to overturn the call. Weaver escaped the inning unscathed with the help of a Moncada baserunning blunder.
The Cardinals have an off-day Thursday and then begin a three-game series with the Reds at 7:15 p.m. CT on Friday. Carlos Martinez (6-4, 3.05 ERA) takes the hill for St. Louis coming off his best start since being activated from the disabled list. Martinez allowed one run on six hits in seven innings against the Giants last Saturday. Matt Harvey (4-5, 4.80) opposes Martinez for Cincinnati.
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.
MLB.com reporter Max Gelman contributed to this story.