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Shildt's tweaks bear fruit, but Cards fall short

Molina has 4 hits in 2-hole; Pham goes deep batting 8th
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

CHICAGO -- Mike Shildt's first bold statement as interim manager came not in what he said, but rather in what he wrote.

As part of the reset the Cardinals initiated with last weekend's managerial change, Shildt has workshopped a lineup that he believes will showcase commitment, prioritize stability and enhance the defense. Thursday's 9-6 loss to open a five-game series against the Cubs exposed some flaws in the design, though that's not likely to push Shildt to abandon one of his first key decisions since taking over for Mike Matheny.

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CHICAGO -- Mike Shildt's first bold statement as interim manager came not in what he said, but rather in what he wrote.

As part of the reset the Cardinals initiated with last weekend's managerial change, Shildt has workshopped a lineup that he believes will showcase commitment, prioritize stability and enhance the defense. Thursday's 9-6 loss to open a five-game series against the Cubs exposed some flaws in the design, though that's not likely to push Shildt to abandon one of his first key decisions since taking over for Mike Matheny.

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"You also have to make sure guys know that you are with them," Shildt said prior to the second-half opener. "That's part of the composition of the lineup."

A middle-of-the-order presence under Matheny, Yadier Molina tallied a career-high four hits -- and sparked the Cardinals' first run-scoring opportunity -- as the club's new two-hole hitter. Tommy Pham, a fixture near the top of the order all season, dropped down to the eighth spot, where he had a three-hit game and tattooed a changeup 433 feet onto Waveland Ave. in the second inning.

Video: STL@CHC: Wong singles home DeJong in 9th

The Cardinals' offensive production -- which included a pair of two-out RBI hits from Kolten Wong, who has hit sixth in Shildt's first two games as manager -- was sustained throughout the evening. They chased Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks in the fifth, scored in six frames and finished with 15 hits.

"I don't want to put a blind eye to this game, but also draw out some real positives from it in that you're talking about a lineup that got turned over several times," Shildt said. "I'm really optimistic about the at-bats we had and the execution."

The problem was that the Cubs were the ones to tally the big inning.

Video: STL@CHC: Cubs score 5 in 5th, anchored by Happ's HR

A 3-1 lead evaporated in the fifth when Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez, who relied more heavily than usual on his changeup, gave up five runs on as many hits. Ian Happ blasted a two-run homer off the righty, and a series of defensive blunders complicated his night.

That fifth inning opened with the first of two errors by shortstop Paul DeJong. The Cardinals finished with their eighth three-error game of the season.

"It wasn't the cleanest game," said third baseman Jedd Gyorko, whose third-inning miscue led to an unearned run. "Obviously, I have to set the tone right there and make a play. We're better than what we threw out there today."

Video: STL@CHC: Bryant reaches on Gyorko's fielding error

Cleaning up the defense was an impetus for some of Shildt's changes -- most notably in nudging Jose Martinez out of an everyday role. Shildt has talked to Martinez about the change, as the organization evaluates whether he might best fit as a trade chip this month.

"Right now, that asset could be a great bat off the bench," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "Obviously, long term, that is something we need to think through."

Martinez's diminished role opens up more regular opportunities for Gyorko and Dexter Fowler, both of whom have started two straight games under Shildt. The pair combined to go 1-for-9 on Thursday.

Igniting the offense and stabilizing the defense will only take the Cardinals so far if they can't also fix the bullpen. A club that now trails the Cubs by 8 1/2 games in the National League Central increased the difficulty of their attempted comeback by allowing Chicago to tack on three late-inning runs. Those proved to be the difference.

Video: STL@CHC: Pham scores on Russell's throwing error

Cardinals relievers have been knocked around for 31 runs in the team's last seven games.

"When you're facing a team like Chicago, you have to bring your 'A' game," Molina said. "We didn't bring the 'A' game tonight, defensively or on the pitching side."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Seeking to both neutralize and fool a Cubs offense that was familiar with his arsenal, Martinez attacked the Cubs with a heavy dose of changeups and cutters, one of which he would like back. With an opportunity to limit the damage in the fifth, Martinez threw a 1-2 cutter that Happ deposited over the wall in right-center. The home run, which put the Cubs ahead by three, was just the fifth allowed by Martinez in 17 starts this season.

"I was trying to go off the plate," Martinez said. "But that pitch didn't cut much and came in straight."

Video: STL@CHC: Happ blasts a 2-run homer to right-center

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Seeking to shelve the struggles of a disappointing first half, Pham enjoyed some instant results from the work he did over the All-Star break to correct the mechanics of his swing. He obliterated a 79.1-mph changeup from Hendricks for his second home run in a month's span. With an exit velocity of 107.5 mph, the homer was Pham's third-hardest hit this year.

Video: STL@CHC: Pham crushes a home run 433 feet at Wrigley

SOUND SMART
Before Thursday, the Cardinals had won 32 consecutive games in which they notched at least 14 hits. Their last loss in such a game came on Sept. 2, 2015, against the Nationals.

HE SAID IT
"This is clearly a big weekend, but they are all big weekends. I don't get too concerned about the opponent. The opponent is the opponent. We show up and really it's about how we play. And if we play the best version of ourselves, we take the results and feel good about it." -- Shildt, when asked about the club's first five-game series at Wrigley Field since September 2003

UP NEXT
The Cardinals' five-game series against the Cubs will continue on Friday as right-hander Jack Flaherty (3-4, 3.24 ERA) opposes lefty Jon Lester (12-2, 2.58 ERA) in a 1:20 p.m. CT matchup. Flaherty, who threw five scoreless innings in his final start of the first half, will be making his first career appearance at Wrigley Field.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina, Tommy Pham