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Cards searching for answers after skid hits 7

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

CINCINNATI -- The Cardinals headed home Thursday evening lugging a losing streak as long as any in Mike Matheny's managerial tenure, having wrapped up a seven-game road trip without a win. A 5-2 loss to the Reds in the finale of a four-game series dropped the club back to six games below .500, their worst position this late in a season since 2007.

That team finished 78-84. This one has lost 17 of its last 22.

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CINCINNATI -- The Cardinals headed home Thursday evening lugging a losing streak as long as any in Mike Matheny's managerial tenure, having wrapped up a seven-game road trip without a win. A 5-2 loss to the Reds in the finale of a four-game series dropped the club back to six games below .500, their worst position this late in a season since 2007.

That team finished 78-84. This one has lost 17 of its last 22.

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"We know we're being judged by the outside, but we have to be honest with ourselves and what we're bringing and what it looks like and how we can improve it," Matheny said. "That's what we can control. We can't control how we're judged. We can control what product we put out there. There are days we get real close to what we think it should look like, and other days we're just a work in progress."

To turn the season around, the Cardinals will require collective improvement. This road trip exposed deficiencies in several areas -- including the rotation, which had anchored this team through the first two months of the season.

The starters did not post a quality start on the trip and combined for a 7.18 ERA while averaging five innings per outing. On Thursday, it was Mike Leake, the National League's ERA leader two weeks ago, who tripped up in a three-run fifth that ended his afternoon.

"Kind of what you see is what we have right now," Leake said afterward. "It's just a matter of trying to play clean baseball and compete every day."

The Cardinals' offense slashed .212/.285/.332 with a .616 OPS while being outscored, 43-20, on the road trip. And though it fared decently with runners in scoring position (a .293 batting average), a dearth of extra-base hits (14) limited the opportunities for big innings.

In five of their seven losses, the Cardinals held leads of at least two runs. Most of those were lost late, in part due to a bullpen that posted a 5.95 ERA over the seven games.

The small margin for error magnified mistakes, whether on the bases or in the field. An airmailed throw by Yadier Molina and an off-the-mark throw by Paul DeJong cost the Cardinals runs on Thursday. They had two runners thrown out at home in the series and four, in total, on the bases.

"We have to do something," said Matt Carpenter, whose two-run homer accounted for the Cardinals' runs on Thursday. "The play hasn't been necessarily bad, it just hasn't been good enough. It's not one person. It's a collective thing. We all have to play better. [That's] just the bottom line."

Matheny has sought all sorts of ways to shake up his team. There have been changes made to the pregame schedule and different variations of the lineup. He's even adjusted his in-game tactics to try and combat areas of weakness -- sticking with a starter instead of turning to his 'pen, challenging his team's own out to erase a run and pulling a sailing starter early to try for offense.

None of the strategies worked.

"It's all on each of us to do our part," Matheny said. "We have to figure out what we need to improve on, what kind of adjustments we need to make. I think if everybody just continues to go about it that way then we have a better chance to get through this faster."

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.

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