Elimination nears for slumping Cardinals

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, center, talks with teammate Chris Carpenter, right, during the ninth inning of Tuesday's game in Pittsburgh. (GENE PUSKAR ~ Associated Press)

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates wish they'd played and pitched this way all season. The St. Louis Cardinals wish they were pitching and playing now the way they did most of the season.

Paul Maholm became the latest slumping pitcher to shut down the fast-fading Cardinals, pitching effectively over seven innings, and the Pirates won their season-high fourth in a row 5-2 on Tuesday night.

The Pirates remain two losses way from their first 100-loss season since 2001 but are 4-0 on a homestand that began with a three-game sweep of Arizona. Pittsburgh hadn't won that many in a row since a five-game run from Aug. 17 to 22, 2009, against the Brewers and Reds.

"The staff has settled in a little bit, guys are playing hard and they still have goals in mind they'd like to accomplish," Pirates manager John Russell said. "It's good they're not just looking forward to that last day [of the season] in Florida and in heading off to the offseason. They're still playing hard and still competing."

For the Cardinals, elimination is near. Their 24th loss in 36 games and Cincinnati's 4-3 win over Milwaukee dropped their magic number for elimination in the NL Central to four.

The Cardinals probably didn't see this coming when they were in first place Aug. 14, a few days after sweeping three in Cincinnati, but their season has come undone while facing teams and pitchers with poor records. They have dropped their last seven series against teams under .500.

They also keep being beaten by pitchers with elevated ERAs. A day after falling 4-0 to Florida's Chris Volstad, who began the game with a 5.11 ERA, they couldn't get to Maholm (8-15), who came into his 31st start of the season with a 5.36 ERA and a six-game losing streak.

"We didn't even get on base [against Volstad]," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Today, we had some good at-bats, made a lot of things happen, but we just couldn't break through."

Maholm, who had one win since July 18, gave up runs on Albert Pujols' RBI double in the third and force-play grounder in the fifth but otherwise checked the Cardinals on seven hits, striking out four and walking none. It was his first start without a walk since he beat Houston 9-0 with a three-hitter July 18.

"I'm a much better pitcher than I've showed and that's the frustrating part," Maholm said. "A lot of people expect me to go deep into games, and obviously I haven't been. Tonight felt normal and hopefully I can finish my last two [starts] like that."

Evan Meek pitched the ninth inning for his fourth save in 10 opportunities after Joel Hanrahan worked a scoreless eighth.

Others who have beaten St. Louis recently include John Lannan, Jeff Samardzjia and Chris Narveson.

"We're trying to win ballgames, and that's the disappointing part about not pitching well," said Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook, who fell behind 3-0 in the first.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: