The St. Louis Cardinals weren’t happy with their results against one last-place opponent to begin their road trip. They may not be thrilled to find another on their schedule.
As they try to reverse a troubling trend of struggles against losing teams, the Cardinals send Chris Carpenter(notes) to the mound Thursday night to begin a four-game series with the sputtering Washington Nationals.
The Cardinals (68-56) have lost seven of 10 to fall 3 1/2 games behind first-place Cincinnati in the NL Central, and their last two defeats have been especially disheartening.
They opened a 10-game road trip with a 10-2 win over Pittsburgh on Monday, but squandered the series with back-to-back losses against the majors’ worst team.
“I don’t care if it’s home, the beginning of a road trip, the middle of a road trip, this is a disappointing series to lose,” said manager Tony La Russa, whose team missed a chance to tie Philadelphia and San Francisco for the wild-card lead with Wednesday’s 5-2 defeat.
Since the All-Star break, St. Louis has lost six of seven series against opponents that are currently .500 or worse, going 8-12 in those games. During the same stretch, the club is 13-3 against winning teams.
The Cardinals, however, have won six straight and 13 of 15 against Washington, which carries a four-game overall losing streak into this series.
The Nationals (53-74) were shut out for the third time in six games Wednesday, falling 4-0 to the Cubs. Chicago held Washington to five runs and 14 hits during a three-game sweep.
“We’re suffering,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “We’re getting beat. I don’t like getting beat, I’m sick of it and I know our players are.”
Ending the slump won’t be easy against Carpenter (14-4, 2.88 ERA), who is 5-1 with a 1.99 ERA since the All-Star break, posting eight quality starts in as many outings. He worked 7 1-3 innings Saturday in a 5-1 victory over San Francisco .
“As the game went on, I felt I like I got stronger,” he said. “I felt like was able to locate well with all my pitches and get outs.”
Carpenter has already beaten the Nationals once this year. Making his first appearance against Washington since 2006, the right-hander gave up two runs - one earned - in eight innings of a 3-2 win May 18.
Washington’s biggest bats have struggled against Carpenter, with Ryan Zimmerman(notes) going 1 for 10 and Adam Dunn(notes) 4 for 24 (.167) with 10 strikeouts. Dunn is batting .121 (7 for 58) with one RBI and 28 strikeouts in his last 17 games overall.
The left-hander went 3-5 with a 4.63 ERA in 16 starts as a rookie last season, including a rocky outing against the Cardinals on May 1, 2009. Albert Pujols(notes) hit one of three home runs off Zimmermann in the Nationals’ 6-2 defeat.
Zimmermann has been sharp while rehabbing with Triple-A Syracuse, posting a 0.53 ERA in four starts.
“Everything has been as good as it can be in terms of health and his performance,” Riggleman said.