The St. Louis Cardinals consider themselves a playoff contender, but for the second straight September, they’ve gone into a major slump.
On the verge of playing themselves out of the postseason race, the Cardinals look to avoid their longest losing streak of the season Tuesday when they open a three-game road series against the Cincinnati Reds.
St. Louis (78-71) has dropped five straight games, matching its longest skid of the season from July 21-25. The Cardinals, who trail wild-card co-leaders Milwaukee and Philadelphia by 4 1/2 games with 13 to play, were outscored 24-10 in a three-game weekend sweep at Pittsburgh - the last-place club in the NL Central.
“It was a bad weekend,” manager Tony La Russa said.
The Cardinals have dropped 11 of their last 15 in a September swoon similar to what they endured in 2007. Last season, St. Louis trailed Chicago and Milwaukee by one game for the division lead on the morning of Sept. 7, then proceeded to lose a season-high nine in a row to fall out of contention.
Another defeat Tuesday would give the Cards their longest losing streak since then.
“I think we have a couple of weeks left to show the kind of team we have, not the team that’s been around the last week or two,” Cardinals reliever Ron Villone said. “It’s unfortunate what has happened. We’re sick of losing.”
Headed for their eighth straight season below .500, the Reds (68-81) have done plenty of that. Currently, though, they’re thriving in a spoiler’s role. Cincinnati has won its last three series over the Cubs, Brewers and Arizona - all postseason contenders - and is 10-5 since Aug. 29.
Corey Patterson homered in the 10th inning Sunday to give the Reds a 2-1 victory over the Diamondbacks.
“I think to us, it’s kind of our playoffs, and we’re playing great the past few series,” Patterson said. “To end it on this note like we did today, it was a good win for us.”
The Reds have played seven consecutive games decided by one run, winning five. They’re 26-18 in one-run games.
“We want to win series and we want to win close ballgames,” Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. “The guys are feeling really good about themselves right now.”
The Reds’ Bronson Arroyo (14-10, 4.65 ERA) has been outstanding lately, going 5-2 with a 2.14 ERA in eight outings since the start of August and lowering his season ERA by more than a run in that span. The right-hander will set a career high with his next win.
He had a chance to do that Wednesday at Milwaukee. Arroyo limited the Brewers to two unearned runs in seven innings and left with a one-run lead, but wound up without a decision as the Reds lost 4-3.
Arroyo is 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA in 17 appearances - 15 starts - versus St. Louis.
The Cardinals will counter with Braden Looper (12-12, 4.02), who can also set a career high for victories Tuesday. The right-hander, though, has failed in three attempts at his 13th, going 0-2 with a 4.86 ERA in his last three outings.
He was charged with Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Cubs, giving up four runs - one earned - and eight hits over five innings.
Since joining the Cardinals rotation at the start of last season, the converted reliever is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in four starts versus the Reds.
St. Louis holds a 6-3 edge in the season series with Cincinnati.