Albert Pujols’(notes) fractured left wrist certainly has taken its toll on the St. Louis Cardinals’ offense, but perhaps the team’s most debilitating issue is its increasingly unreliable pitching staff.
Owners of the majors’ worst ERA in June, the Cardinals turn to Lohse as they hope to avoid a seventh straight road loss in their first trek to Camden Yards to face the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night.
St. Louis (41-38) has dropped five of six since Pujols went down, totaling nine runs in those losses, but shaky pitching has been an issue since well before the three-time NL MVP’s injury.
The Cardinals had a 3.60 ERA - 10th in baseball - through May, but Tony La Russa’s staff has taken a drastic turn for the worse. After Toronto finished a three-game sweep at Busch Stadium with Sunday’s 5-0 win, St. Louis’ June ERA sat at a major league-worst 4.95.
A 2 1/2-game lead on Milwaukee for first place in the NL Central on June 9 has turned into a three-game deficit.
“It’s not doomsday around here,” said first baseman Lance Berkman(notes), who’s 5 for 24 since Pujols went on the disabled list. “This is a rough stretch, we’re in a rut, but good teams figure out a way to stop the bleeding and get on track.”
St. Louis’ starters had a 3.30 ERA through May 25, a number that’s 5.09 since then.
That rise coincides with a similar bump for Lohse (7-4, 2.91), who gave up 19 runs and three homers in his first 11 starts but has surrendered 15 runs and seven home runs over his last four.
He’s also received only four runs of support and got no help while holding Philadelphia to three runs over eight innings in a 4-0 loss Wednesday.
Lohse hasn’t made an interleague start in 2011, but based on his track record, the Cardinals may need to score quite a few runs.
The right-hander is 6-14 in 30 games - 26 starts - in interleague play, with a 5.93 ERA that’s the highest in interleague history among pitchers who have worked at least 110 innings.
He’s 2-1 with a 4.39 ERA against the Orioles, though those five outings came when he pitched for Minnesota from 2001-06.
Lohse isn’t exactly catching Baltimore (35-40) at the right time as the Cardinals try to avoid their first seven-game road slide since an 11-game drought Aug. 29-Sept. 25, 2007. The Orioles have an AL-best 32 homers in June, three of which contributed to Sunday’s 7-5 win over Cincinnati.
“You look one through nine and you’ve got six, seven guys that I feel are real hot right now, that are swinging it well,” Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie(notes) said. “I think that’s what we had intended going into this season.”
The Orioles send Zach Britton(notes) (6-5, 3.19) to the hill looking for his first interleague win in his third start. The rookie left-hander gave up five runs - three earned - over six innings in Wednesday’s 5-4 loss at Pittsburgh.
He’ll see a St. Louis lineup that’s at least a little bit more healthy. Third baseman David Freese(notes) will be back for the first time since breaking his left hand May 1, while utilityman Nick Punto(notes) - out since May 17 - will also return.
Baltimore dropped two of three at St. Louis in 2003, the teams’ only previous interleague series.