A season after winning the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals are off to their worst start since manager Tony La Russa joined them 11 years ago.
They hope a return home Tuesday will help them snap a season high-tying five-game losing streak when they open a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
St. Louis (16-25) has its worst record at this point in a season since 1995, when the club finished 62-81 and fourth in the NL Central, ahead of only Pittsburgh. La Russa was hired that offseason and turned the team around immediately, leading the Cardinals within one victory of the World Series in ’96.
St. Louis has made six more playoff appearances since that one, and brought La Russa his second world championship last season by defeating Detroit in five games.
The rematch of that World Series didn’t go nearly as well for the Cardinals, who were swept by the Tigers over the weekend. St. Louis’ 6-3 defeat Sunday gave it five straight losses for the first time since April 27-May 2. The Cardinals haven’t lost six in a row since a seven-game skid from Sept. 20-26 that nearly dropped them out of the playoff race.
St. Louis overcame that losing streak to win its first title in 24 years, and hopes it can start to rebound from its current slide with a return to Busch Stadium. The Cardinals, however, have the worst home mark in the NL at 7-11.
The Cardinals went 2-7 on their just-completed road trip, dropping them further behind division-leading Milwaukee.
“It’s definitely a disappointing road trip,” said Cardinals pitcher Brad Thompson, who allowed five runs in 5 2-3 innings Sunday. “I hope we get back on track when we get home. We have to start playing better baseball, but I’m confident we can do it. I mean, look around this clubhouse. You’ve got All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.”
One of those players that fits both categories is Albert Pujols, who has emerged from an early season slump by going 10-for-20 with a home run and four RBIs in the last five games. The five-time All-Star, hitting just .273 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 41 games, was at .317 with 21 homers and 53 RBIs at the same point last season.
The Cardinals hope Adam Wainwright (3-3, 6.34 ERA) can rebound from his shortest outing of the season last Tuesday. The right-hander lasted only 2 2-3 innings in a 9-7 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing a season-high eight runs and seven hits with four walks, one hit batter and no strikeouts.
“He’s learning,” La Russa said. “He’s making some mistakes. It’s kind of painful at times. Adam had a tough night.”
Wainwright, who closed out last year’s World Series victory, had a tough time against the Pirates on April 17, allowing five runs and eight hits in a 6-1 loss at Busch.
The Pirates (19-24) hope they can get to Wainwright again and even the season series at three games apiece. They’ll counter with Zach Duke (1-4, 5.19) as they try to bounce back from a 5-2 loss to Arizona on Sunday, their second in three games over the weekend.
Duke has lost four consecutive decisions since his lone win April 8 at Cincinnati, but has pitched well during that span. The left-hander has posted a 2.87 ERA in his last five starts but received three runs or less of support in each contest, leaving him with an 0-2 record over that stretch.
Duke yielded two runs and eight hits in seven innings Wednesday, not factoring in the decision of a 4-3 loss to Florida.
“He started getting the ball down in the zone, hitting his spots, and had his sinker working and started getting ground balls,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy said.
Duke went 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA in four starts against St. Louis last season.