Cards losing grip on division title hopes -

Cards losing grip on division title hopes

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By Scott Bierman By Scott Bierman

(BaseballStL) -- The St. Louis Cardinals could use a break after dropping 11 of their previous 15 games, including a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday.

They won’t get the much-needed break until Monday, and will have to settle for a three-game home set against the Chicago Cubs, losers in six of their last seven games, instead. And not that any game is easy, but playing the Cubs will be a lot different than playing the likes of the Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates or Los Angeles Dodgers -- three teams on hotter than hot streaks.

“I know the guys are pushing hard to get to the day off on Monday, which doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people, but it’s a big deal to these guys,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I know everybody’s a little banged up, everybody’s a little tired and regardless of who we’ve played against you look at what this Dodger team has been doing. But the majority of the teams we’ve been playing lately have been playing good baseball.”

Since the Cardinals’ last off day, the team will have played 21 games in 20 days after this weekend. During that stretch, the Cardinals traveled to play the Atlanta Braves, winners of 13-straight games, the Pittsburgh Pirates, winners in nine of their last 11 games, before coming home to face the Dodgers, winners of 17 of their last 18 road games.

The Cardinals managed a 2-10 record against those teams, who currently sit atop their division. If not for taking two of three from the Cincinnati Reds last weekend, the team could easily find themselves battling for the top wild-card spot. The team currently leads that race by three games.

“This is not an excuse,” outfielder Carlos Beltran said. “That’s what we’re here for, to play games. We haven’t been able to be consistent like we were early in the year so that’s something that we’re looking for.”

Consistent might be the farthest thing from this club as of late. The Cardinals have scored only 20 runs in their 11 losses since the All-Star break. They have scored 46 runs in their last four wins.

Two weeks ago, the Cardinals owned the best record in baseball at 62-37 (.626) and had a modest two-and-a-half game lead on the Pirates. Then the road trip from hell, which generated only three wins in 11 games, coupled with a four-game home series loss to the Dodgers happened.

Best record in baseball no more. So long division lead.

“We knew this was going to be a challenge for us,” Matheny said. “It’s not that the guys are physically tired. It’s August. They call them the dog days for a reason.”

The Pirates will have a four-game cushion on the Cardinals at the start of Friday’s games. Not much ground should be expected to be made up as the Pirates travel to play the Colorado Rockies, losers in nine of their last 10 played.

“Honestly, I’m not paying attention because I cannot worry about Pittsburgh because we got to find a way to play our own baseball and think about us,” Beltran said.

All of the St. Louis players’ attention will be on the Pirates after Monday’s off day as the top two NL Central foes square off at Busch Stadium for a three-game series starting on Tuesday. The teams still have nine games left to play against each other, including next week’s series.

But first, the Cardinals will need wins this weekend against the Cubbies. Something they hope will begin to right their slowly sinking ship.

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