ST. LOUIS -- Normally loath to focus on any game past the one at hand, some Cardinals relented recently that they'd peeked at the upcoming schedule with wide eyes. A nine-game stretch against the National League's losingest teams awaited, presenting St. Louis with what it viewed as an opportunity: A
ST. LOUIS -- Normally loath to focus on any game past the one at hand, some Cardinals relented recently that they'd peeked at the upcoming schedule with wide eyes. A nine-game stretch against the National League's losingest teams awaited, presenting St. Louis with what it viewed as an opportunity: A chance to fatten up on the Marlins, Reds and Padres.
Now on the other end of it, they are forced to view it as an opportunity missed. None would admit to underestimating any opponent after Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Padres at Busch Stadium, and perhaps the events of the last week and a half prove why teams rarely do. At the mercy of a feast-or-famine offense that is often slow to rev, the Cardinals' second straight loss dropped them to game below .500 for the month of June, and capped a soft span of their schedule over which they went 4-5. An important weekend series against the Cubs now looms.
"Sometimes, in a 162-game season, you just go through a stretch where nothing is really going your way as a team," center fielder Tommy Pham said. "We're in that kind of situation."
More than anything, it's the offensive inconsistency -- from a unit expected to be explosive -- that has the Cardinals scratching their heads. Pham called its root "hard to pinpoint." Marcell Ozuna struggled similarly to underline a cause.
The numbers from this most recent stretch tell the what, not the why: St. Louis averaged 5.5 runs per game in the four games they won, 2.8 in the five they lost. They fell to four starters all with above-league-average ERAs, the latest example being Eric Lauer, off whom they socked four home runs a month ago at Petco Park. Lauer entered Wednesday with a 6.64 mark. Then, he allowed Ozuna's two-run homer in the sixth, and little else. A night after five relievers held the Cardinals to a handful of singles, the three that followed Lauer retired nine of the last 10 St. Louis hitters to end the game.
"Sometimes that happens, we do our best against better teams," Ozuna said. "Right now, I don't know what the piece we're missing is."
Of the prime candidates: rallies. The Cardinals rank last in the National League in doubles and triples. They did not walk Wednesday for the third consecutive games, making supporting losing pitcher Luke Weaver a far more difficult task. The righty allowed two runs in the first and two in the sixth. In between, his offense pushed one runner into scoring position.
The Padres mounted their lead long before to hand Weaver his sixth loss, the righty surrendering four runs in 5 1/3 frames. Freddy Galvis' two-run double opened the scoring, and Manuel Margot added an RBI triple before curtaining a potential Cardinals rally in the eighth with a sprawling catch in the right-center-field gap.
"Marcell gave us a shot in the arm, and we had trouble doing anything else besides that," manager Mike Matheny said. "Sometimes you're going to run through those consecutive games where guys aren't making a lot of mistakes. And that happens. You gotta find ways to get it done."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
"Sometimes you have to get lucky, too," Pham added after the game, in large part referencing the extra-base hit he had snatched away in the eighth.
Shading Pham heavily in the right-center-field gap, Margot raced 64 feet in 3.9 seconds before leaving his feet to make what Statcast™ labeled a 4-star catch. Had the ball landed, the late innings could've shaken out much differently.
"They know I'm off, so they can cheat me that way," Pham said. "If this was last month, they couldn't."
Ninety-eight Cardinals batters came to the plate during this three-game series. Nineteen struck out and zero walked. The last time the Cardinals played a three-game series without drawing a walk was May 26-28, 1978, vs. the Cubs. The Padres had never before played a three-game series in which their pitching staff did not walk a batter.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Nostalgia overcame Busch Stadium before the start of the fifth inning, when the crowd of 44,094 rose to bestow Padres bench coach Mark McGwire with a curtain call. McGwire famously played five seasons in St. Louis, setting the all-time single-season home run mark in 1998.
HE SAID IT
"It can always be worse. We're six games above .500. We're still in the hunt. I wouldn't say our season is a disappointment at all." -- Pham
The Cardinals and Cubs are set to rekindle their storied rivalry in a three-game set beginning Friday at 7:15 p.m. CT from Busch Stadium. But St. Louis will be without perhaps its most important hitter for what'll be its biggest series of the year to date: Jose Martinez is set to miss the weekend on the paternity list. The Cardinals will have Michael Wacha (8-1, 2.47 ERA) on the bump, their most consistent starter. Jonathan Lester opposes (7-2, 2.22) riding a three-start win streak.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.