ST. LOUIS -- Over the last five games, Cardinal starters posted a 1.59 ERA. In four of the five games, St. Louis led at one point. Twice they were leading with two outs in the eighth inning.
They lost all five games. Worse, all of them were at home.
“I haven’t been a part of anything like that since I’ve been here in St. Louis.” Matt Carpenter said Sunday. “It’s frustrating. We’re a better team than this. We usually play really well here and just, for whatever reason, we’re going through an ugly stretch at home.”
Busch Stadium has traditionally been a safe haven for the Cards. In all four previous seasons under Mike Matheny, the team has won at least 50 games in St. Louis. They’ve never had a losing record in Busch Stadium III and haven’t been below .500 at home since 1999.
This year, they’re 15-21 at Busch, on pace for just 33 wins.
“There’s no reason why we wouldn’t be able to play well at home. We always have, we love being here,” Matheny said after Sunday’s 5-4 loss. “It’s only a matter of time until we play well at home. We have a good team. You say what you want, I don’t really care. This team is way better than anybody is giving us credit for.”
The 0-5 skid has raised the frustration level in the clubhouse to a season high. It’s particularly aggravating because the Cardinals had just finished a five-win streak punctuated by a sweep of the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
The team had more momentum than they’d felt all year and were returning to familiar ground for a week, traditionally a recipe for success.
“From my vantage point, whenever I came here I felt like we were playing a team that was ready to go and ready to compete every pitch,” said Mike Leake, whose six years in Cincinnati put him on the receiving end of St. Louis’ home dominance. “I think that’s kind of the expectation we have.”
But the Cardinals were out-hit 43 to 33 and outscored 19-10 at Busch. They surrendered multiple late-inning leads and were shutout in one game.
It’s another in a series of strange turnabouts in 2016; the Cardinal team that thrives on the road doesn’t seem to be the one that comes back home.
“I haven’t noticed that, but since you say it, I guess we should figure out what to do at home a little bit better,” Leake said. “I don’t think there’s a difference in how we play at home. We’re just getting beaten.”
Perhaps the reason Leake hasn’t noticed the record splits (in addition to the fact most of his stats are better at home) is because the numbers aren’t eye-poppingly different. The team batting average is 20 points worse, but at home they’ve hit 23 more doubles and nearly the same amount of home runs.
But in one-run games, the Cardinals are just 3-8 at home. Those high-tension moments - the ones where a hometown crowd, familiarity with your surroundings and the comfort of your own bed are supposed to make a difference - have been won by visiting teams.
“We’re getting out played. That’s it. You don’t really overthink it more than that,” Matheny said. “We have certain parts of our game that aren’t allowing us to finish games. Whether it’s the offense taking advantage of opportunities, defense, or giving up extra bases and runs. We’ve had different parts that haven’t been there.”
The team heads north to Chicago for three games as part of an eight-game trip around the country. Normally, leaving home is never something to look forward to. Given the Cardinals’ 20-12 away record, a road trip may be just what they need.