ANAHEIM, Calif. • As they’ve come unmoored during interleague play the Cardinals have discussed how they need to pull their overall game together and get their starting pitching back in synch with their offense.
The two pulled in different directions during June.
They started July going the same way.
It wasn’t quite the course the Cardinals had in mind.
A visit to Southern California that presented the Cardinals with several firsts was decided by what the Cardinals have seen plenty of recently. In the Cardinals’ first regular-season visit to Angels Stadium of Anaheim and first game against former star Albert Pujols, the LA Angels quieted the Cardinals’ lineup and capitalized on one big inning against Lance Lynn for a 5-1 victory Tuesday night.
Jered Weaver (2-4) held the Cardinals to one run, scored on a groundout, in his seven innings of work.
“It wasn’t a secret when we were really rolling early on it was our starting pitching, our defense and our timely hitting,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We’re going to live and die with our starters, and we know that.”
All three of those facets contributed to the loss Tuesday night. The Angels turned six singles in the second inning into five runs against Lynn. The second-year starter lost back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Several of those hits squeaked through the infield, and a couple other plays were not made behind Lynn. The timely hitting, that staple of the early-season surge, was lacking.
The Cardinals went one-for-seven with runners in scoring position, brought the tying run to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth, and failed to produce a run.
“Five is a long way to come back,” Matheny said, “especially when we couldn’t get anything going against Weaver.”
The Cardinals slipped to 2-4 on the trip and must take the next two games in this three-game visit to have a .500 journey. The Cardinals have lost seven of their last nine games, dropping from first-place in the division thanks to an 11-game stretch against American League West teams. The Cardinals are 2-7 against American League teams from outside of Missouri.
The root of the Cardinals’ first prolonged struggles of the season had been the strength of their strong start. Their starting pitching, outside of ace Adam Wainwright, has evaporated in the heat of summer. For the third time in as many consecutive road starts, Lynn had a single inning mushroom on him for at least four runs.
In Miami, he allowed a five-run first inning. In Houston, four runs scored on him in the fourth inning. The Angels riddled him for five runs in the second inning.
“I give up six singles — you don’t think you’re going to give up five runs,” Lynn said. “That’s something you don’t think is going to happen,. but it did. You make your pitches and you can control the rest. … I couldn’t get it done in the second inning and that cost us the game.”
After Pujols, a three-time MVP and civic fixture for 11 years with the Cardinals, was 0 for three. After the game, Pujols said playing against the Cardinals was “fine” and “a little weird,” the same descriptions he gave a few hours before first pitch.
“I think he was a little keyed up,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He has a lot of friends over there, he sees that uniform, and it has to be strange for him. there was definitely some emotion on Albert’s part.”
An inning after his first at-bat, Pujols’ new teammates took over.
The first four Angels batting in the second inning singled, and seven of the first eight batters sent to the plate reached base. An error prolonged the inning but it didn’t explain the inning. Singles did.
Lynn allowed all sorts of them. Grounders found ways through the Cardinals’ infield. Line drives zipped to the outfield. Mark Trumbo had a bloop to center field that brought home the first of the five runs.
“He’s got the stuff to stop the bleeding, he just couldn’t figure out how to do it,’’ Matheny said of Lynn. “There’s no reason with his stuff that should happen on a consistent basis.’’
The Cardinals righty got through six innings to save the bullpen some added work and allowed the rive runs on nine hits. All of the runs came in that six-single salvo to continue the trend for Lynn and the sag of the overall rotation.
The Cardinals have had only 11 quality starts since the beginning of June, and five of them have been delivered by Wainwright. As Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline comes into view on July 31, the Cardinals’ needs are surfacing. They have three starters — Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Tyler Lyons — who have appeared in the majors already this season now at Class AAA Memphis preparing for their returns, when needed.
Quality innings have become a need for the team, and with one pitcher (the Cubs Scott Feldman) already on the move via trade Tuesday there will be rotation aid available.
“Part of the ups and downs of a 162-game schedule,” Lynn said.
Lynn (10-3), one of the returning starters called on by the Cardinals to handle more innings with more consistency, has allowed 21 runs in his previous 302/3 innings. In that same four-start span, he’s allowed 44 walks and hits combined.
Before the game, Pujols spoke about how swapping a few numbers here or there and the Angels, a losing team so far this year despite lofty expectations, would be where the Cardinals are in the standings. They are certainly headed on different courses recently. The Angels won their seventh consecutive game Tuesday.
“I don’t want to take the focus away from how we’re playing,” Pujols said when peppered with questions about playing his former team for the first time. “I feel a little embarrassed to take the focus away from how great we’re playing as a team.”
The Cardinals scored the most runs of any team in the National League in June and most of the attention during their scuffle has been on the pitching. But this voyage into the American League has been unkind to the lineup, too. Especially when it comes to area of the lineup that figured to grow stronger in the AL – what with no pitcher having to hit.
Shortstop Pete Kozma and center fielder Jon Jay, two residents of the lower third, have tumbled into extended slumps. Jay brought a 11-for-56 (.196) dip into Tuesday night’s game and complicated it by going 0-for-3. Kozma is hitless in four consecutive games and has 23 strikeouts, 19 hits and a .192 average in his previous 28 games.
In their past seven losses to American League, three of which were in an NL park, the bottom three spots in the order have gone a combined seven-for-68 (.103) with 22 strikeouts.
With Matt Holliday also out Tuesday because of neck stiffness, the Cardinals have had him and slugger Matt Adams in the lineup at the same time only three times against AL foes.
In the top of the eighth inning, three consecutive singles from Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig loaded the bases for the Cardinals with no outs. The Cardinals brought the tying run to the plate in Adams and the Angels went to lefty Scott Downs. Downs struck out Adams and then stayed in to face David Freese, who has hit .238 against lefties this season. Downs tested him with sinking fastballs. Freese was able to poke one toward right that could have scored two runs — had first baseman Trumbo not dived to snare it. He turned the double play that ended the inning.
The Angels pulled off the Houdini — escaping from a bases-loaded jam with no outs and allowing no runs.
The bottom of the order didn’t even get a chance to contribute in that rally. That trio went down in order in the ninth to end the game.
“It’s more pronounced when the top of our order is not necessarily putting up a lot of runs,” Matheny said. “We’re looking for that spark and you hope it’s from anybody. We’re just having trouble getting it going right now.”