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Triple play, Lynn's gritty start not enough

Cardinals starter limits damage over five, but offense stays quiet

TORONTO -- A Cardinals team starved for power watched the Blue Jays flaunt theirs Friday night in a matchup between two clubs trending in differing directions.

The Cardinals, who stood a season-best seven games over .500 just 10 days ago, have sputtered back to an even 31-31. On Friday, they were undone by Toronto's show of power, the difference in a 3-1 win for a Blue Jays team that has created separation among its American League East competition with six consecutive wins.

For St. Louis, the loss, coming in front of 33,528 fans at Rogers Centre, was the team's fourth in five games. It dropped the Cardinals to 2-6 in Interleague Play, with four games remaining against AL clubs on this trip.

What the Blue Jays are is what the Cardinals hope they can still be.

"That lineup, it has a lot of confidence right now, and we're not there yet," manager Mike Matheny said afterward. "I think they realize right now that we're not right for whatever reason. Maybe 'right' isn't the right word so much as confident. You run into a couple teams here, this being one of them; they have been scoring a lot of runs and have some guys putting up big numbers. There's a confidence when you walk into the box. When you start looking at some of the things that we have done this year, they're a little off pace. I think that does create a different threat.

"But the reality is that it's not gone. It's just not here right now. It's just a matter of figuring out how we get back there. We want to have the production that puts fear in people."

To this point, the Cardinals have shown little of it.

A club two years removed from leading MLB in runs scored and featuring five 20-homer hitters in the lineup is on pace to hit a team total of 84 this year. The success with runners in scoring position -- a trademark of the 2013 club -- is gone, too. This group is batting .236 in such spots, a bit below the league average.

It leaves the Cardinals pinched for production and envious of Toronto's current roll.

"These guys," Matheny added, "are putting up some pretty radical numbers."

The Cardinals jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first against Toronto starter Marcus Stroman, a former first-round Draft pick making his second career start. There was, though, an opportunity for more -- Matt Holliday was thrown out at the plate with one out while trying to score from second on a single -- and that inability to provide starter Lance Lynn with additional run support proved to be a game-changer.

It was obvious from the get-go that the night would be a grind for Lynn, whose previous start lasted a season-short 3 1/3 innings. He would make it through five on Friday, but it took 110 pitches to do so. The Blue Jays, branded with the reputation as a free-swinging team, did little of that as Lynn tried to get them to swing at his off-speed pitches outside the zone.

That led to elevated pitch counts, four walks and, ultimately, two crushed fastballs.

"They had a great game plan," Lynn said. "I was trying to get them to chase stuff, and they wouldn't do it."

Lynn did strand nine -- including the bases loaded twice -- but he also allowed solo homers to Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie.

"They made me pay on two in the middle of the zone," Lynn said. "That cost us the game."

Bautista's homer, his 15th, evened the game in the third. Lawrie's line-drive blast over the wall in right-center pushed Toronto ahead two innings later. Riding the long ball has become routine for the Blue Jays, who have a Major League-most 89 homers and five players with more home runs than the Cardinals' team leader, Jhonny Peralta, who has nine.

The Cardinals, in comparison, rank 29th with 32 team home runs.

Lynn turned the one-run deficit over to reliever Seth Maness, who, with the assistance of a triple play, pitched a scoreless sixth. The triple play, started by second baseman Daniel Descalso on a bases-loaded line out, was the first by the Cardinals since May 2005.

"It definitely killed their momentum," Descalso said. "To come away with no runs scored for us is big in that spot."

That was the first of two scoreless innings from the Cardinals' bullpen before the Blue Jays padded their lead with three singles off Jason Motte. That eighth-inning scoring mattered little, though, as the Cardinals' offense would not push a run home after the first.

Six times on Friday the Cardinals ended an inning with a runner stranded in scoring position.

"I have always felt that when guys get on I feel I have been able to buckle down and really be at my best," said Stroman, who pitched six-plus innings. "That's something I have always prided myself on."

Among the missed opportunities was one in the seventh, which opened with a single and a walk. Oscar Taveras, Holliday and Allen Craig were then retired in order.

While the Cardinals have fallen back to .500, it does not take a long look back in franchise history to find the most recent time the Cardinals had an even record this late in the season. In 2012, a year that ended with a run to the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals were 35-35 on June 21.

"We're just not putting it altogether," Matheny said. "But we are getting tougher, because the kinds of games that we have had -- whether they are wins or losses -- have been gut-wrenching for us, for our fans, for anybody who follows this club. It's been a different style of season, and I believe those pay off in growth at some level, and hopefully it pays off in caliber of baseball that we're able to put out there the rest of the way."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
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