ST. LOUIS — Offensively, the St. Louis Cardinals still rank first or second in the National League in many key categories.
However, that wasn't evident in the weekend series against the Cleveland Indians, who held the Cardinals to five runs in taking two of three.
The Cardinals batted .240 (23-for-96), and 17 of their hits were singles. Carlos Beltran hit the only two home runs. St. Louis has lost eight of its last 12, and has scored three runs or fewer six times.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny insists the offense will be fine.
"You always have to start with the (opponent's) pitching," Matheny said. "You've got to give credit when they throw some guys out there who are throwing the ball well. You understand that.
"But the first week and a half, two weeks of the season, we faced some of the best guys in either league and held our own. This offense is going to hold its own against anybody. It's just you're going to have streaks where you're not going to be able to throw up 14 runs.
"I'm not worried at all about the offense."
Indeed, the Cardinals scored 14 runs Thursday in Houston. But the Astros are the Astros. How the Cardinals (31-30) fare against better competition will determine their fate.
Fifteen of the Cardinals' next 25 games before the All-Star break are against winning clubs. After the break, they face important series against Cincinnati, Milwaukee, the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles.
Cincinnati and Milwaukee seem certain to be in the hunt for the NL Central title, and Pittsburgh is a new entry into the fray.
"Would I like to see us (be) more consistent? There's no question," Matheny said. "But guys are grinding. They're fighting. I'm going to continue to stay optimistic because that's what I believe. It's not some facade. It's only a matter of time before we take off.
"I know the guys believe it, too. We're playing less than our best baseball and we've still got a fighting chance. When we take off, it's going to be a good run. We need to get it going soon."
Beltran, who leads the NL in home runs with 18, said a break in the schedule Monday could be beneficial.
"I'm looking forward to it mentally," he said Sunday. "Hopefully, everyone will relax and come Tuesday ready to play baseball."
The Cardinals continue interleague play at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday when they begin a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox (33-27), another AL Central contender.
Adam Wainwright (5-6, 4.97 ERA) will pitch for the Cardinals against Jose Quintana (1-1, 2.05 ERA).
The other pitching matchups are: Lance Lynn (9-2, 2.66 ERA) vs. Jake Peavy (6-1, 3.05 ERA), 7:15 p.m. Wednesday; and Jake Westbrook (4-6, 4.25 ERA) vs. Gavin Floyd (4-6, 5.38 ERA), 7:15 p.m. Thursday.
Westbrook is 8-13 with a 5.25 ERA in his career against the White Sox, who have handed him more losses than any other team.
First baseman Paul Konerko is sizzling for the White Sox, batting .365 with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs. Adam Dunn has 20 homers and 46 RBIs, although he already has 96 strikeouts in 212 at-bats.
The Cardinals' offense could receive a jolt with the return of left fielder Matt Holliday, who missed the final two games of the Cleveland series with back spasms.
"We're hopeful for Tuesday, especially with us carrying 13 pitchers," Matheny said. "We're in a spot if he's not (available). So we're going to continue to be optimistic again about that. We'll wait until Tuesday to find out."
Holliday, of course, isn't the Cardinals' only injured player. Lance Berkman, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter, Skip Schumaker, Chris Carpenter, Kyle McClellan and Jaime Garcia all are on the disabled list.
"You can't take injuries out of the equation when it comes to the way the team is playing as whole," Matheny said. "But I still say, you look at our lineup every day and we've got a chance. We've got a good chance.
"We've got a good lineup regardless of who we have in there. We've got depth. We've talked about that since spring training, and now we're using it. There are times you're going to go through good spurts of playing well and there are times you're just fighting it. Right now, we're fighting it."