Baseball / Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals' Seth Maness pitches in the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Saturday, April 26, 2014. The Pirates won, 6-1. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)

Cardinals fall to Pirates as offensive slump continues

ST. LOUIS -- More than 30 minutes after the final out Saturday at Busch Stadium and long after many of his teammates had vamoosed, Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter stood in the clubhouse, eye black still untouched, uniform still on and dirt still streaked down the front of it from a play made hours before.

This is how he copes when swings aren't going well.

Following another in a string of offensive duds by the Cardinals, their leadoff hitter went straight to the video room to review his at-bats in the 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He insists that keeping his uniform on is not an overture, not some motivational tool to make him marinate in his jersey as he dwells on at-bats.

He explained it more simply: "I just lose track of time."

That happens when it seems like things are repeating themselves.

For the second time in as many days the Cardinals squeaked out only one run, and they've now scored three or fewer runs in each of their last seven games.

"There's really no sugarcoat," Carpenter said. "We're really not clicking on all cylinders."

The Pirates, no titans on offense this month either, scored more runs in a single inning (four) against lefty Tyler Lyons than the Cardinals have in their previous three games.

The Cardinals had seven innings against the Pirates' emergency-duty bullpen and mustered a single RBI double from Matt Holliday.

The Cardinals have averaged 2.18 runs per game over the previous 11 games -- a stretch that no longer can be embroidered with the small-sample size asterisk. The Cardinals have three hits in their previous 23 at-bats with runners in scoring position, and they have now gone 354 at-bats (and counting) without a home run.

No individual big-leaguer had as many as 350 at-bats without a homer in 2013.

The description "frustrating" was abundant Saturday, and it goes beyond still wearing the uniform or wearing it on their sleeve. Manager Mike Matheny said he's "seen some broken stuff here and there."

"The frustration is that we know we're capable of doing (more)," added Matheny, whose club led the National League in runs last summer. "It happens during the season and right now we can't figure it out. ... We're going to hit. It's not going to happen by us wishing it. So we're going to work our way through. Sometimes we work smarter. Sometimes we work harder."

Saturday's game flipped on the Cardinals in the span of six outs and one sudden pitching change.

Their inability to capitalize captured the lineup's rolling blackouts.

In the bottom of the third inning, the Cardinals got a leadoff walk from Lyons and a 3-0 count to Carpenter from starter Francisco Liriano. The Bucs lefty appeared unsteady and walked out of the game after experiencing dizziness and flu-like symptoms on the mound. Into the mess came reliever Stolmy Pimental. The righty walked Carpenter to put two on with nobody out.

He then retired three of the next four Cardinals, two on strikeouts.

He escaped without allowing a run.

"You see Liriano leave the game and all of a sudden we've got guys all over the base and it looks like here this might be our spot," Matheny said. "And it doesn't happen. Those big hits in big situations aren't easy to come by. We made it look easy I think last year, and I think our guys grew to expect it to happen. I think they still do. In that situation we are believing everything is going to turn around right there."

It did for the Pirates.

Lyons spent the entire 20-plus minutes of the inning at bat or on the bases. When he took the mound, he had misplaced his rhythm.

The lefty, who is filling in for Joe Kelly (hamstring), retired the first nine batters he faced. He needed only 17 pitches to get his first six outs. He was aggressive. His slider was, at times, filthy. He was undone in the top of the fourth.

Lyons walked the leadoff hitter and the first four batters reached base, punctuated by Gaby Sanchez's two-run double. An inning after Pimentel (2-0) pitched out of a jam, the Bucs exploited the one Lyons (0-2) pitched into.

"One inning changed the whole day," Lyons said. "One inning -- that's a killer."

Before the Pirates added two runs in the ninth, the Cardinals threatened in the fifth inning. Two runners were stranded when Yadier Molina flew out as part of his zero-for-four day that ended a 15-game hitting streak.

In the seventh, the rally never got to Molina because of two slick defensive plays by the Pirates. Jose Tabata ran deep into right-center to rob Holliday of extra bases. With a runner at third base Matt Adams drilled a laser over second base -- right to the shortstop. The Pirates' aggressive shifting stole another hit and the RBI with it.

The Cardinals have tried multiple ways to kickstart the lineup. Allen Craig, with a .174 average, has hit five different spots in the lineup. Jon Jay, with a .283 average, has seen increased playing time.

And on Saturday, the Cardinals did not take the field for batting practice. They had a soft-toss only day in the cages. Whatever it takes for a different look while seeking different results.

That's what Carpenter is doing after a game like Saturday's -- giving it a look. He likes to review his at-bats and then dial forward to film of the next day's pitcher. He said he wants to go home with that on his mind, visualizing what he might see the next day. Only then does he change out of his uniform.

Thirty-seven minutes after he made final out Saturday he took off his cleats.

"I think the key to a season and your offense and your at-bats and the way things are going is to not panic and continue to take the same approach," Carpenter said. "If we do that, collectively, we'll be fine. If we panic or start to press then this will snowball into something that will last longer than it should."

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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