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Cards have chances but can't cash in vs. Giants

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two of the Cardinals' last four seasons have ended here in San Francisco, a place where they've limped to a 1-6 record under the postseason spotlight. The stakes weren't quite as finite Thursday, but once again, the Cardinals' momentum stalled under the AT&T Park lights.

Outplayed by the Giants, whose starter stepped up in a critical spot and whose offense came through with a succession of timely hits, the Cardinals fell, 6-2, in the first installment of a four-game series that could significantly impact their October plans.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Two of the Cardinals' last four seasons have ended here in San Francisco, a place where they've limped to a 1-6 record under the postseason spotlight. The stakes weren't quite as finite Thursday, but once again, the Cardinals' momentum stalled under the AT&T Park lights.

Outplayed by the Giants, whose starter stepped up in a critical spot and whose offense came through with a succession of timely hits, the Cardinals fell, 6-2, in the first installment of a four-game series that could significantly impact their October plans.

View Full Game Coverage

As the Cardinals readied for what set up to be their biggest series to date, manager Mike Matheny acknowledged the struggles his club has had matching up with the Giants in recent years. As he described it: "They've played a clean game, and we've opened the door."

That would be how Thursday played out as well, as the Cardinals squandered an opportunity to create a three-way tie atop the National League Wild Card standings. Consequently, they now trail the Giants by two games. The Mets sit one game ahead of St. Louis.

"I'm trying to downplay the game, but we do have time left," said starter Adam Wainwright, whose road ERA ballooned to 6.14 after a 5 2/3-inning effort. "We have plenty of time left to make this happen. We just have to play good games and have good starting pitching and play good defense and get timely hits."

The Giants were a hint better at all of those when it mattered most Thursday. Johnny Cueto outdueled Wainwright with his fifth complete game of the season to keep the wobbly San Francisco bullpen from having any say in the outcome. The Cardinals, after four hitless games with runners in scoring position, did tally two against Cueto, but they also left chances untapped.

Stephen Piscotty's strikeout left two stranded in the third. Outs by Kolten Wong and Wainwright squandered an opportunity with runners on the corner in the fourth. A Cardinals team that has generated 46 percent of its runs via homers this year is now batting .225 with runners in scoring position since the All-Star break.

"It seemed like with a couple of those innings, you hate to look up there and have just one run on the board when you had multiple guys on base," Matheny said. "This is the kind of offense that can put a crooked number up there in a heartbeat."

Beginning with Wong's popup, Cueto retired 17 straight batters. He was efficient in doing so, too, needing only 52 pitches to cover his final five innings. Wainwright, on the other hand, didn't have a clean inning all night.

The Cardinals, who began the night with the Majors' best road record, have dropped four of their last five games, a skid they'll now ask rookie Luke Weaver to help halt Friday.

"I've sat up there and watched these guys celebrate too many times," said Matheny, whose club was officially eliminated from the NL Central race with Thursday's loss. "I'm good with trying to change that a little bit."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.

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