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J. Martinez homers, but Cards' bats quiet in loss

May 8, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- Marcell Ozuna slammed his bat on the grass outside the home dugout, his neon arm sleeve reflecting off the high afternoon St. Louis sky. His frustration, now beginning to mount, spoke for a number of the Cardinals' more vital offensive pieces.In fairness, Ozuna's less-than-stellar start in red

ST. LOUIS -- Marcell Ozuna slammed his bat on the grass outside the home dugout, his neon arm sleeve reflecting off the high afternoon St. Louis sky. His frustration, now beginning to mount, spoke for a number of the Cardinals' more vital offensive pieces.
In fairness, Ozuna's less-than-stellar start in red and white isn't the most glaring of an ugly group of St. Louis slash lines history says are bound to turn around. And he was far from the only culprit of Tuesday's 7-1 loss to the Twins, when a lineup absent of Yadier Molina and Tommy Pham stalled for the second straight game. Consecutive listless days have turned the conversation back to the offensive struggles, which were largely masked over a 5-2 homestand filled with late nights and dramatic comebacks.
"It was a tough couple of days," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "This weekend might've caught up with us a little bit. But we have to play better, we know that."

Tuesday, those issues were more plain to see. Jose Martinez's early homer marked the Cards' only run off a quartet of Minnesota hurlers, who retired the last 18 Cardinals hitters of the afternoon. St. Louis-area native Jake Odorizzi outpitched Carlos Martinez, whose first loss since Opening Day came in large part to three errors committed behind him.

"If Carlos has a little more help defensively, that game looks a lot different," Matheny said.
An Ozuna misplay allowed a run to score on Mitch Garver's single in the fourth, and Jose Martinez's error opened the door for Robbie Grossman's two-run double in the fifth. Eduardo Escobar provided insurance with a two-run home run off Tyler Lyons in the seventh, by which point the Cardinals had already tallied both of their only two hits. They've now scored three runs over their last 26 innings, two coming in the final frame of Sunday's marathon win over the Cubs.
"It'll be fixed," Matheny said. "Our offense is going to be what we want it to be."
For weeks, Matheny and other club officials have found solace in numbers that say they should be better. Few teams have fallen victim to worse luck than the Cardinals, who lead the Majors with 32 barrels hit for outs. Ozuna, Matt Carpenter and William Fowler are all underperforming their batted-ball metrics. But in between those drives, they anchor a unit that frequently goes cold. St. Louis ranks third in the National League in homers, but next-to-last in hits.
"They are going to be fine," Matheny said. "It's just hard on them to go through it."
Another hitless day made Fowler 2-for-May. Carpenter is 3-for-21 this month. The moat between Ozuna's production now and where it was a year ago stretched to 79 points of batting average and 420 of OPS.
"He's frustrated," Matheny said of Ozuna. "All of them are. The guys who aren't where they want to be are all frustrated. They should be. That's how they're wired, and that's how this game goes."
Martinez gives, Martinez takes away: With the others slumping, Jose Martinez has been perhaps the club's most important hitter over the season's first six weeks. But his inexperience at first base continues to mitigate some of that offensive value. Tuesday was a prime example. His home run accounted for all the offense, but his error opened the floodgates in what turned into a lopsided loss. Martinez called the dichotomy "the worst."

The Eddie Rosario line drive that skipped off his mitt in the fifth accounted for his fifth error, most among MLB first basemen. It elongated the inning for Grossman, whose two-run double essentially put the game out of reach.

"Everybody knows I'm trying to do my best out there," Martinez said. "You don't want to be making errors. I show up every day trying to learn, trying to get better. No matter what happens, not even one play is going to take me out of my plan of helping the team win. I feel I'm that close."
The Cardinals scored one run on two hits and made three defensive errors. That gave them a 1-2-3 scoreboard line in a game for the first time since Aug. 3, 2006, an 8-1 loss to the Phillies.
"Right now, I feel like either I'm off or [the pitches that are called strikes] are off. So I am always in between." -- Ozuna
The Cardinals will regroup with their fourth off-day in slightly more than two weeks before flying west for a four-game series against the Padres starting Thursday. San Diego is where Miles Mikolas (4-0, 2.70 ERA) got his first taste of the Majors before reinventing himself over three seasons in Japan. He toes the rubber against Jordan Lyles (0-0, 3.66 ERA) at 9:10 p.m. CT from Petco Park.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.