One year after gaining national attention for helping pitch his team to the World Series, Colorado Rockies ace Jeff Francis is still looking for his first win in what has been a difficult 2008 campaign.
Adam Wainwright knows how he feels.
Wainwright, who struggled early last year after an impressive performance in the 2006 postseason, will try to pitch the visiting St. Louis Cardinals to their fourth straight win on Wednesday against Francis and the Rockies.
In a stretch of five starts spanning the end of the regular season and Colorado’s sweeps of the NL division series and NLCS last year, Francis went 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA.
He tossed 6 2-3 innings and allowed one run in the Rockies’ 5-1 win in Game 1 of the NLCS against Arizona, but that success didn’t carry over to this season. Francis (0-3, 5.26 ERA) gave up 12 runs in 11 1-3 innings in his first two starts, losing both to the Diamondbacks.
The left-hander threw at least seven innings in each of his next three starts, allowing just six total runs, but still couldn’t earn a win. He ran into trouble again Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up four runs in the sixth inning after five shutout frames.
“Just a bad inning knocked me out of the game,” Francis said. “It could have turned out other ways, but the blame falls on myself.”
Wainwright famously served as the Cardinals’ closer during their 2006 championship run, pitching 9 2-3 shutout innings overall and striking out the New York Mets’ Carlos Beltran to end Game 7 of the NLCS with the winning runs on base.
But he had a 6.34 ERA in his first eight starts last year - his first season as a starter. Wainwright (3-1, 2.60) has been much more effective early in 2008, allowing just seven earned runs in 30 innings in his last four starts, going 2-0 over that span.
He surrendered one run on four hits in 6 1-3 innings Friday against the Chicago Cubs, his shortest outing of the year after he had tossed a 126-pitch complete game in his previous start.
“I think my arm was given plenty of time to rest,” Wainwright told his team’s official Web site. “The important thing is to not push it too early. We’re just getting out of April here. It’s good to be a hero, but not all in the first month.”
Both pitchers have dominated their opponent, with Wainwright allowing one earned run in 10 1-3 innings against the Rockies, while Francis is 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA in two home starts against St. Louis.
Both team’s results this season have been surprising. The Rockies (12-21) were widely expected to contend for their second straight NL pennant, but after dropping the first two games of their four-game set to the Cardinals, they’re now trying to avoid their fifth losing streak of at least three games.
They’ve dropped 13 of their last 16 games, matching San Diego as the worst team in the majors, and their 4.87 ERA remains the second-worst in the NL.
“The game is hard for us right now,” Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said. “There’s no lack of effort. We’re just coming up short.”
Despite a banged-up pitching staff and a revamped lineup, the Cardinals (22-12) are just a half-game behind Arizona for baseball’s best record, as they’ve won eight of their last 10.
Ryan Ludwick went 4-for-4 in Tuesday’s 6-5 win, as Rick Ankiel homered and had his first two outfield assists of the season. Ludwick has hit in six straight games to raise his batting average to .349, while Ankiel is hitting .375 with seven RBIs in his last eight games.
The Cardinals have won four straight at Coors Field, where they’re 11-5 since 2004.