A patchwork pitching staff and sputtering offense may be what keeps the St. Louis Cardinals from returning to the postseason this year.
The Cardinals will try to avoid their season-high sixth straight loss on Wednesday when they continue a three-game series with the Cincinnati Reds.
Pitching has been a problem all season for St. Louis as ace Chris Carpenter lasted one April start before going down for the season with elbow surgery. Later that month, reliever John Hancock was killed when his sport utility vehicle slammed into the back of a tow truck, and World Series star Anthony Reyes and journeyman Kip Wells have combined to go 8-29 with a 5.64 ERA.
But during its late-season skid, St. Louis’ starters—a group that included longtime reliever Brad Thompson and midseason pickup Joel Pineiro—have combined for a 10.13 ERA. The group has failed to get past the fourth inning in each of its last four contests, and also has allowed 33 hits in 18 2-3 innings with seven homers overall.
Mark Mulder, who is trying to comeback from offseason shoulder surgery, was ripped Tuesday night in a 7-2 loss. The left-hander struggled in his second start of 2007, lasting only four innings and giving up two homers to the Reds’ Adam Dunn, including a long grand slam that started a six-run third.
“There are still some things that are tough for me to throw when I want to and when I need to,” Mulder said. “I didn’t make good pitches in that inning. In that inning, the ball was up and hittable.”
On offense, the Cardinals (69-73) are hitting only .229 and have been outscored 38-20 during the skid. Rick Ankiel had nine homers in his first 23 games since being recalled from the minors, but is 1-for-18 during the skid, which coincided with a published report he received shipments of human growth hormone in 2004 before it was banned by Major League Baseball.
He lost a fly ball that dropped for a double, then had another deflect off the heel of his glove for a two-run error during Cincinnati’s big inning on Tuesday.
Heading into play last Wednesday, the defending champions were in third place in the NL Central and only one game behind the then-division leading Chicago Cubs. St. Louis still is in third, but now three games behind second-place Chicago and four in back of division-leading Milwaukee.
The Cardinals will host Chicago for four games this weekend, including a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.
Reyes (2-13, 5.61 ERA) will make his first start for the Cardinals since pitching one-plus inning against the Reds on Aug. 31, when he allowed four runs and four hits—including homers to Josh Hamilton and an inside-the-park drive by Edwin Encarnacion.
The right-hander, 1-1 with a 7.84 ERA in his career against the Reds, pitched an inning of relief in the Cards’ 16-4 rout of the Pirates on Thursday.
Dunn, who needs two homers to reach 40 for the fourth straight season, has a single and double in five career at-bats versus Reyes.
Bronson Arroyo (8-14, 4.40) will go for the Reds, looking for his fifth win in eight starts. The right-hander limited Milwaukee to three runs and five hits in 7 2-3 innings Friday during Cincinnati’s 11-4 home win.
“Bronson was very good, changed speeds really well, kept them off guard— just the same old cliches with him,” Reds manager Pete Mackanin said. “He pitched very well against a first-place team.”
Arroyo is 0-2 with a 3.67 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals this season, but both losses have come in St. Louis.
Reds center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. is hitting only .242 (8-for-33) with one homer this month, and needs seven more to become the sixth player in major league history with 600.