Cardinals Major League Notebook: 09/02/10

The Cardinals limp home after a 2-8 road trip against three losing teams including a Houston sweep that put their post-season hopes in serious jeopardy.



Before the Cardinals' 10-game trip to Pittsburgh, Washington and Houston began, the consensus was that St. Louis needed to go 7-3, or at the worst 6-4, against the three also-rans.

The Cardinals went 2-8 on the journey, all but killing their chances of contending for the National League Central title and possibly even the wild card.

After winning the first game of the trip, 10-2 in Pittsburgh, the Cardinals were outscored 51-28 in the other nine games. Besides losing eight of nine, they have dropped five in a row.

If ever a team needed a day off, the Cardinals need one Thursday. It will be their last one of the season, and it comes before a showdown series with Cincinnati that, even if the Cardinals sweep it, still would leave them four or five games off the pace.

At least the Cardinals were ahead for a while Wednesday. Matt Holliday hit his 24th homer, a two-run drive, with two outs in the first inning. But the Cardinals failed to score in the third whey they had two on with nobody out and wound up leaving the bases loaded. They also left the bases loaded in the fifth.

"There's nobody to blame but ourselves," manager Tony La Russa said. "We had a chance to add some (runs). We stunk (Wednesday), and we stunk during the whole trip."

The primary reason for the Astros' three-game sweep was the Cardinals' 1-for-18 performance with runners in scoring position. And that one hit, an infield single by Jon Jay on Wednesday, didn't even score a run.

Even the managing didn't go well Wednesday. Jeff Suppan, who hadn't pitched since scoring his only Cardinals win on July 31, got through four scoreless innings, allowing one hit, but he was weakening in the fifth, issuing two of his four walks -- a leadoff pass to Brett Wallace and a two-out walk to Jeff Keppinger.

"You've got to make sure those guys put the ball in play because (Hunter) Pence can hurt you," La Russa said.

Though right-hander Jason Motte appeared ready in the bullpen, Suppan was allowed to face Houston right fielder Pence with two on, two outs and a 2-1 Cardinals lead. Pence already had singled off the left field wall and walked, and on this occasion, he jumped on a Suppan hanger and lofted a three-run homer just fair to left field.

ASTROS 5, CARDINALS 2: The Cardinals finished their season's business with the Astros, and not a moment too soon. They were swept for the second time this year by Houston -- once in each home city -- and the Cardinals lost 10 of 15 meetings overall with the Astros. 1B Albert Pujols finished an 0-for-10 series, and he is 0-for-13 since a first-inning single in Washington on Sunday.


The Cardinals scored in the top of the first inning in five games on their 10-game trip. They won the first time they did that but lost on the next four instances, including scoring twice in the first on LF Matt Holliday's two-run homer in the first inning Wednesday. "We had that formula a couple of times on this trip and it didn't work," manager Tony La Russa said.

The lack of consistent offense appears to be the Cardinals' major problem lately, but their staff ERA was 5.00 on the longest trip of the season. Manager Tony La Russa again stressed, "We're losing as a team. We could play better defense, we could pitch better, we could manage better, we could hit better."

Next up for the Cardinals is a three-game set in St. Louis this weekend with Cincinnati. The Cardinals are 10-5 against Cincinnati and 21-24 against the reset of the National League Central. "I'm not all that excited (about) the reception we're going to get when we get home," La Russa said. "I know we deserve to get it. But we'll tough it out. This is a tough group. We'll just show them we're a better ballclub than what we just played on this road trip. That's our assignment."

INF Aaron Miles made his first start at shortstop this season. He failed twice to advance a runner in his first two at-bats before singling in the fifth. Brendan Ryan replaced Miles as a pinch runner and then on defense over the last half of the game.

RHP Jeff Suppan, who came off the disabled list Wednesday after healing from a strained groin, dropped to 1-7, although he blanked the Astros on one hit for four innings. Of the four-run fifth inning which cost him, Suppan said, "It wasn't about pitch selection. It was mostly about pitch location. If there's a leadoff walk, I need to throw strikes."

LHP Dennys Reyes (elbow strain) was activated from the disabled list, and the lefty specialist will resume pitching out of the bullpen.

OF Nick Stavinoha and C Matt Pagnozzi were recalled from Class AAA Memphis as the Cardinals expanded their roster. Stavinoha made his 63rd appearance for the Cardinals this season when he struck out as a pinch hitter Wednesday, leaving him with a .260 average. Pagnozzi played six games for the Cardinals last season, when he went 1-for-5. He hit .242 with one homer and 21 RBI in 68 games for Memphis this year.

By the Numbers:

1.336 - 1B Albert Pujols' OPS for August, with three games remaining.


Quote to Note:

"If it happens, it happens. But I don't want to stand here thinking about it."

- Albert Pujols, on his chances for the Triple Crown.




Medical Watch:

RHP Jeff Suppan (sore right groin) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 1. He threw a three-inning simulated game Aug. 17, and he was activated to start Sept. 1.

LHP Dennys Reyes (left elbow strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 16. He was activated Sept. 1.

C Jason LaRue (concussion) went on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 13. He was moved to the 60-day DL on Aug. 19, ending his season.

RHP Adam Ottavino (right shoulder strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 4, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on Aug. 17. He won't need surgery, but he is out for the season.

3B David Freese (right ankle surgery) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 28, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on Aug. 15. He was originally out due to a bone bruise on his right ankle, and then he broke his left big toe in mid-July. He tore a right ankle tendon Aug. 2 in his first rehab game with Class AA Springfield, and he had season-ending surgery Aug. 6.

RHP Brad Penny (strained upper back) went on the 15-day disabled list May 22. He threw bullpen sessions June 28 and July 1 but had to cut short a bullpen session July 6 because of tightness in his triceps area. He underwent an MRI on July 7, which found nothing that hadn't been diagnosed before. As of Aug. 5, he was playing catch but not throwing off a mound. Penny is out indefinitely.

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