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Cards see another lead slip away vs. Cubs

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- It had happened before. The Cardinals held a lead in the first two games of the series and lost, but on Sunday, things felt a little different.

After seeing a total of 39 pitches from Kyle Hendricks in the first three innings, the Cardinals made him throw 43 in the fourth. They put four runs on the board to take a three-run lead, yet by the time the inning was over, they'd given it right back.

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CHICAGO -- It had happened before. The Cardinals held a lead in the first two games of the series and lost, but on Sunday, things felt a little different.

After seeing a total of 39 pitches from Kyle Hendricks in the first three innings, the Cardinals made him throw 43 in the fourth. They put four runs on the board to take a three-run lead, yet by the time the inning was over, they'd given it right back.

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"It just started snowballing," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said following the team's 7-6 loss at Wrigley Field. "It happened in a hurry."

That's been the story for the Cardinals as of late.

In the team's last four losses, there has been one constant: The Cardinals held multi-run leads in each of those games but weren't able to finish the job.

"I'd say we've had two weeks of being in every single game. Two weeks of having multiple games that we typically would put away," Matheny said. "Then, for whatever reason, they're just hard to finish right now."

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The loss Sunday capped off a stretch for the Cardinals that's seen them go 5-13 over their last 18 games. Once six games over .500, the team has dropped to 26-28 and has fallen down to third in a crowded National League Central.

Over that 18-game stretch, part of the problem has come from the offense. The Cardinals have been held to three or fewer runs 11 times, including in one game where right-hander Carlos Martinez threw nine scoreless innings only to see the team lose in extras.

"We've got to play better. Just [have] got to play better," Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler said. "Of course you want to win them. You want to win them. Coming out on the other side, [we've] been hitting some balls hard, just right at people."

But even when the offense came around Sunday, putting up six runs for the first time in the team's last 11 games, it was the same story in the end.

The Cubs answered with a five-run fifth and took a 6-4 lead. The Cardinals tied things up again, only to fall back behind in the seventh.

"Put up that many runs, think we might have a great chance of winning," Matheny said. "You've got to figure out ways to keep adding on.

"That was a real good inning for us, though," he added of the fourth. "And one of those that we typically would hold on to. But like I said, when things started to go bad, they went bad in a hurry."

Scott Chasen is a reporter with MLB.com based in Chicago and covered the Cardinals on Sunday.

St. Louis Cardinals