Adam Wainwright is among the best pitchers in baseball, but he didn't resemble one his last time out.
The St. Louis Cardinals may need him to do so if they're going to avoid their longest slide in almost a year.
The right-hander attempts to rebound from his worst performance of the season Wednesday night against the Kansas City Royals as this four-game set shifts to Kauffman Stadium.
Wainwright (8-3, 2.32 ERA) has the most wins in the NL (105) since joining the rotation in 2007. This year, the two-time All-Star ranks among baseball's leaders in wins, ERA, shutouts (two), innings (85 1-3) and batting average allowed (.198).
Wainwright, though, was hit hard Friday, giving up seven runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 9-4 defeat to San Francisco. He entered the game on a 20-inning scoreless streak and 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA in his past four starts.
"He's been the best pitcher in baseball for the last two months," manager Mike Matheny told the team's official website. "(Friday) was just one of those ones you've got to forget about and get right back after it."
Sending Wainwright to the mound on the road could get him - and the Cardinals (30-29) - untracked. He's 5-2 with a 1.59 ERA in seven starts as a visitor, and he's won all four of his starts at Kansas City behind a 3.10 ERA.
St. Louis has won seven straight there, batting .317 while averaging 7.4 runs.
The Cardinals, however, are hitting .213 with 3.1 runs per game while losing six of seven and are on the verge of their first four-game losing streak since Aug. 7-10.
They wasted a 10-hit effort from the offense Tuesday, when closer Trevor Rosenthal gave up a tiebreaking single to Eric Hosmer in the ninth inning of an 8-7 defeat to the Royals (28-30). That came a day after the bats mustered three singles in a 6-0 defeat in the opener of this four-game, two-city I-70 Series.
"We can't complain about what the offense did," Matheny said Tuesday. "It just wasn't enough."
The Royals' Alex Gordon has been doing plenty, homering on two of his three hits in this series while driving in four runs - three Tuesday. The left fielder owns a .356 average with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 30 career meetings with St. Louis, and he's 4 for 8 with a triple and three walks versus Wainwright over the past two years.
Kansas City turns to Jason Vargas (5-2, 3.39), who is trying to carry his road success back to Kauffman.
The left-hander is 2-0 with a 1.60 ERA in six road starts, and he's allowed two runs with 13 strikeouts in 12 1-3 innings over his last two starts - both as the visitor.
Vargas hasn't come close to being that effective in his last four home starts, compiling an 8.34 ERA while serving up seven homers and going 1-2.
He's facing the Cardinals for the first time since a win with Seattle on June 16, 2010, and he may not have to contend with rookie Kolten Wong.
Wong hit a grand slam for his first career homer Tuesday, ending the Cardinals' stretch of 20 scoreless innings. However, he hurt his shoulder diving for an infield hit in the eighth.