ST. LOUIS -- In a wide-open National League West, the Padres have spent the past two or three weeks lingering on the periphery of the race -- not close enough to be considered contenders, but too close to be ruled out.All along, the week of June 11 loomed. Trips to
ST. LOUIS -- In a wide-open National League West, the Padres have spent the past two or three weeks lingering on the periphery of the race -- not close enough to be considered contenders, but too close to be ruled out.
All along, the week of June 11 loomed. Trips to St. Louis and Atlanta -- contenders in superior divisions -- would serve as a barometer for where the Padres stood.
Litmus-test week is off to a slow start. The San Diego offense came up short in a 5-2 loss Monday night at Busch Stadium. Cardinals righty Jack Flaherty held the Padres' bats in check over 6 1/3 innings, allowing just a solo homer to Cory Spangenberg. The bullpen did the rest.
For the Padres, right-hander Jordan Lyles wasn't particularly sharp, allowing 11 hits for the second straight outing. This time, however, Lyles managed to limit the damage a bit.
"He battled," Padres skipper Andy Green said. "I'm relatively pleased. Just two flat pitches that got hit out."
The Cardinals scored all four of their runs against Lyles on two-run homers, one from Jose Martinez in the third and one from Marcell Ozuna in the fifth. Lyles left a changeup over the middle to Martinez, then threw a curveball that didn't bite to Ozuna.
Other than that, Lyles was solid over six innings. But he labored for most of the night, as the Cardinals fouled off a number of his two-strike offerings. Among his 102 pitches, Lyles recorded only three swings and misses.
"It was a weird outing," Lyles said. "I got ahead of guys, and then they battled. They squared some balls up, but whether they did or didn't, they still put it in the outfield. So many scattered hits."
The Padres clawed one run closer in the eighth on Hunter Renfroe's RBI groundout, but a familiar nemesis quickly negated that. Jedd Gyorko's solo shot in the bottom of the frame reinstated the Cardinals' three-run lead. It was Gyorko's ninth home run in 15 games against his former club -- and his first big fly since he went deep in San Diego, precisely one month ago.
Gyorko's homer effectively signaled the end of the night. The Padres have won four straight series for the first time since 2015, and if they want to make it five, they'll need to win the next two games in St. Louis.
It's a tall task. But in three of those four series victories, they've rallied back from a Game 1 defeat. Then again, those three series were against the last-place Reds and Marlins (twice). Perhaps understandably, the Padres are doing their best to downplay the importance of their week on the road.
"It's so cliche to say, but we play 162 games," Spangenberg said. "Every week's important. At the end of the year, sometimes teams miss out by a game. Every time we step on the field, it's important."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Slide rules: Among the game's first 50 hitters, none walked. Then in the top of the seventh, three consecutive Padres walked. Trailing by three, San Diego twice brought the go-ahead run to the plate. And twice, that go-ahead run struck out swinging on a John Brebbia slider outside the zone. Raffy Lopez went down first, then pinch-hitter Jose Pirela couldn't hold up on a check swing, ending the threat.
Spangen-blast: Spangenberg's homer was a rocket down the right-field line at 108 mph off the bat. Christian Villanueva followed with a 107-mph laser off the left-field wall, but he was held to a single. Flaherty was on the ropes, but with two on and two out, Lyles grounded to third. It was the first of 14 straight Padres Flaherty would retire.
ADVENTURES OF FRAN
Make no mistake, the Padres called up Franmil Reyes from Triple-A El Paso last month because of his bat. The lumbering 6-foot-5 outfielder hits mammoth home runs, but he's a serious question mark defensively.
In the fourth inning Monday, Reyes misplayed a looping single from Flaherty into two extra bases for the Cardinals' pitcher. Reyes over-aggressively charged the baseball on an ill-advised attempt to throw out Flaherty at first base. It skittered past him, and Flaherty ended up on third.
"If you're going to take that kind of risk, you need to pick that ball up," Green said.
Fellow outfielder Franchy Cordero is eyeing a return from his forearm strain later this month. When he's back, the Padres will again have a glut of outfielders. Reyes, who is hitting .208/.250/.458 in 76 plate appearances, is a candidate to be sent to Triple-A El Paso.
Green also spoke about Reyes' marked defensive improvement before the game. Monday's misplay aside, Reyes has made strides -- enough so that his bat could make him a useful piece, Green said.
"I've always said you've got to do at least two out of three things if you're going to be a productive big leaguer," Green said. "You've got to get on base, you've got to hit the ball out of the ballpark, you've got to defend the field. If you do two out of those three things, you're going to be good. If you do all three of those things, you're going to be great. He's made strides on the defensive end. … Now it's, 'Hey, can you get on base, and can you drive the ball out of the ballpark?' If you do those things, you've got a future in this game."
For the third time in three weeks, the Padres are slated for a bullpen game in Joey Lucchesi's absence. And for the third time, it's Matt Strahm getting the ball first on Tuesday night. First pitch is slated for 5:15 p.m. PT, and the Cardinals will counter with right-hander Miles Mikolas -- a one-time Padres reliever who reinvented himself during three seasons in Japan and has become one of the Majors' best strike-throwers.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.