Cardinals searching for answers to poor play

SAN DIEGO – Standing in front of his locker following a second straight sloppy loss that dropped the Cardinals to 4-10 in their past 14 games, starter Adam Wainwright did his best to convince those worried about his teammates that they shouldn’t be.

Despite losing five of their last six games and posting just four wins since August 28, the Cardinals remain one game in front of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild card spot in the National League.

And Wainwright knows it.

“I’m not concerned about this team,” Wainwright said. “I know a lot of people are but the funny thing is, you look at the way we’re losing games and we’re just playing bad at times. I think our best ball is ahead of us. We get in that playoffs and were going to be a very dangerous team. We have to finish up strong. This is September, this is crunch time, we have to show up and execute.”

The last two games have gone about as bad as they can go for the Cardinals, who went 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position Tuesday and left 14 runners on base. They also failed on three sac bunt attempts, one of which would have directly resulted in at least one run.

But the sloppy play carried over to the field, where the Padres put together a five-run fourth inning thanks to an error on Pete Kozma – the Cardinals 11th error in their past 10 games – and two infield singles on plays that both David Freese and Skip Schumaker said they should have made.

Things seem to be trending in the wrong direction for the Cardinals, who desperately need to plug the leak in what looks like a sinking ship of a season. And it starts with getting their swagger back.

“We need to show up and remember that were the World Champs,” Wainwright said. “Remember that we have the team that won it all, remember that we have the best team on paper every time we show up. We just have to remember that and go out and whoop people. Sometimes we’re a little bit too nice.”

The Cardinals went 23-9 to finish last year before sneaking into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season and going on to win the World Series. The opposite seems to be unfolding so far down the stretch this year with the Cardinals limping to a 4-10 record since winning the series opener in Pittsburgh on August 27.

But thanks to similar skids from the Dodgers and Pirates, the Cardinals still find themselves in a playoff spot should the season end today. The problem is that the Phillies and Brewers have both taken advantage of the poor play in front of them and are only four games back after wins Tuesday night.

And the Cardinals have noticed.

“The bottom line is we’re losing games we need to win, regardless of whether the other team is in contention or losing or what,” said Freese, who hit his 19th home run of the season in the seventh inning.

“It’s a good opportunity to lengthen our lead in the standings and we’re not doing it. It’s putting more pressure on this team and allowing other teams to stick around.

“You look at Philly and Milwaukee and I think they won tonight and they are four back now so other teams are jumping in the picture. We know how that goes looking at last year. It’s frustrating and we understand what’s going on but we have to win ballgames down the stretch and the teams that do that get in the playoffs.”

The Cardinals dropped to eight games over the 500 mark, their lowest since also being eight games over on August third. After improving to 20-11 on May 9, the Cardinals are just 55-56 since – the tenth best record in the National League.

Wainwright should have been out of the fourth inning without a run scoring. Instead, the Padres touched him for five runs, two of which were earned, to turn a 2-0 Cardinals lead into a 5-2 deficit.

“It doesn’t seem like there are any breaks when it’s going bad and that’s where we’re at right now,” Schumaker said. “It’s tough. We’re letting other teams in and it’s next going to make these next couple of weeks real interesting.

“It hasn’t been happening and that’s why it’s frustrating. There’s no rhyme or reason. We can’t figure it out. It’s tough to swallow because were too good.”

The Cardinals know they have the players needed to make a serious run at returning to the World Series. But they also know they have to start playing better – and fast. The Cardinals have just 20 games remaining, including a huge four-game series in Los Angeles beginning Thursday.

“The talent is here to make a run like we did last year,” Wainwright said. “The talent is here to make a run like we did in 2006, when we limped into the playoffs with the best team and just played terrible ball in the second half and ended up winning the World Series. We need to just not press and go out and execute and show up and be ready to play because the talent is here, no doubt.”