It’s early in the season, but the St. Louis Cardinals are not playing as well as they need to against their top rivals in the NL Central.
The Cardinals (7-7) dropped their second consecutive game to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, a 2-1 decision before 43,841.
St. Louis is 0-5 against the Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates – who swept the Cardinals in a season-opening series – and has been outscored 22-8.
It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against. If we don’t execute in those (clutch) situations and don’t get the job done and do the little things right, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’ve just got to control what we can control.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny
“Regardless of people claiming one team is better than another, we’ve just got to come out and play good baseball,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose club was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. “We had opportunities to win this game today.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against. If we don’t execute in those (clutch) situations and don’t get the job done and do the little things right, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’ve just got to control what we can control.”
The Cardinals will try to salvage one game in the series at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday when they send Carlos Martinez (2-0, 3.46 ERA) to the mound against the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 2.84 ERA).
St. Louis played a clean defensive game Tuesday, and second baseman Kolten Wong twice ranged far to his right to take hits away from Jason Heyward, the former Cardinal who against was lustily booed.
But Jaime Garcia (1-1) allowed a bases-loaded, two-run single to Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel in the fourth, putting the Cardinals behind 2-1.
The Cardinals’ only run came on Yadier Molina’s second-inning triple that scored Randal Grichuk. Matt Adams and Grichuk opened the inning with singles, but Adams was later caught off the base, which took a run away from St. Louis.
It’s not what I want to do. I didn’t give the team a chance to win. Going five innings is never my goal. I’ve got to do a better job than that next time.
Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia
“That was just a play that didn’t work,” Matheny said, offering no further insight.
The Cardinals stumbled again in the fourth.
Matt Holliday led off with a single and went to third on Adams’ double into the right-field corner. But Kolten Wong struck out and Molina flied out to right fielder Heyward, whose perfect throw to the plate nailed the sliding Holliday.
Matheny didn’t second-guess third-base coach Chris Maloney’s decision to send Holliday.
“You have to (challenge Heyward),” Matheny said. “He’s got to make a great throw. It doesn’t matter who’s running there. He made it. That’s a play we need to try and push to make them make the play every time.
“Whenever we have men in scoring position with less than two outs, it’s something we expect to capitalize on, especially with a man on third base. We had that a couple of times tonight and couldn’t get it done. Games like this, that’s going to play.”
Garcia was coming off a one-hit shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, when he struck out a career-high 13. But Garcia lasted only five innings in his encore performance, allowing two runs (earned) on four hits. He walked four, struck out seven and threw 98 pitches.
“It’s not what I want to do. I didn’t give the team a chance to win,” Garcia said. “Going five innings is never my goal. I’ve got to do a better job than that next time. I wasn’t getting close calls. Some of them I thought were strikes or were close to the strike zone, I wasn’t getting the calls. And (the Cubs) are very patient.”
Garcia almost escaped the fourth when the Cubs loaded the bases with one out. Garcia struck out Addison Russell, but Hammel grounded a single through the left side.
“I didn’t make the pitch when I had to make the pitch,” Garcia said. “I’ve got to do a better job than that. It’s my bad. I’ll try to do a better job next time. He hit the ball decent. He swings the bat OK. But still, I feel like I’ve got to be more aggressive in that situation.”
Hammel was glad to come through for the Cubs (11-3), who already have built a four-game lead over the Cardinals.
“We hit every day, but I’m not trying anything different,” said Hammel, who is 2-for-6 this season. “I’m just trying to get the barrel on the ball. I had a pitch down and in that I could handle and basically hit it on the ground.”
Cubs pitchers have seven RBIs in 31 at-bats this season.
“I just think we have fun with it,” Hammel said. “We do hit in there for a while. We take a little pride in it. We can help ourselves out and we did it again tonight.”