ST. LOUIS — Offensively, the St. Louis Cardinals rank first or second in the National League in average, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles and on-base percentage.
But the Cardinals have been slipping at the plate in recent games, twice failing to get their first hit until the sixth inning against Milwaukee. And Saturday, St. Louis managed just three hits in a 4-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Two of the Cardinals' hits were singles by Michael Wacha and David Freese; the other was a double by Matt Carpenter.
"We had trouble getting anything going," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We've had little runs (like) this here and there. It's just a matter of not letting them last very long. But right now, we're having trouble getting going, especially early in the game."
Rookie left-hander James Paxton (2-0) allowed two hits in six shutout innings, with two walks and five strikeouts. The Cardinals only other hit was against reliever Charlie Furbush, and their lone run scored on Furbush's eighth-inning wild pitch.
St. Louis is 17-23 against left-handers, a weakness that is exacerbated by the absence of first baseman/right fielder Allen Craig (sprained left foot).
Does unfamiliarity with a pitcher, such as Paxton, play a role?
"It can," Matheny said. "We've had that in the past where we faced a young guy and had trouble getting anything going. The kid tonight has good stuff; we know that. But our offense can score off anybody. We know that. It's just right now, we're in a little bit of a lull.
"There's no real explanation. We've been a team like that a lot this season. You look at the big innings we've had, it seems to be that second, third time through the order. That fourth or fifth inning seems to be, for whatever reason, when they really start to figure things out. But every once in a while, you go through those ruts where you're having trouble getting the offense jump-started."
That's what Carpenter tried to do in the eighth. With the Cardinals trailing 3-1, he drove a hit to right field. The Mariners' Franklin Gutierrez assumed Carpenter would stop at first, so Carpenter broke for second and slid in safely for his 50th double of the season.
"We really hadn't gotten anything going at the time," Carpenter said. "There was one out. If there were zero or two outs, I probably wouldn't have done it. But I felt like there was an opportunity to get to second base and maybe start something, so I went for it."
Carpenter sensed that Gutierrez was caught off-guard.
"I don't think he was ready for that one," Carpenter said. "You never know what kind of thing can jump-start an offense, so I thought it was a good time to take advantage of it."
Matheny held his breath as Carpenter made the decision to advance.
"I wasn't real excited about it when I saw him going," Matheny said. "We don't want to get in the way of their instincts. If he gets thrown out, he's feeling pretty bad right now. If he's safe, we're all excited when he comes across home plate.
"He saw it, saw he had an opportunity, and he obviously was right. You could tell he was trying to spark us, get us going. Sometimes you can do that on the bases."
Matheny said he believes the Cardinals will be in the postseason, but as usual, he's not looking ahead.
"We've got to get some offense going," he said. "Our pitchers have started stepping it up and are giving us some good starts. There's nothing wrong with us getting a couple of hits early. There's nothing wrong with us scoring a few runs early."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.