CHICAGO -- The sort of lapses that have constrained the Cardinals this season surfaced again in a 5-0 loss to the Cubs that left the Cards to spend another day stuck where they started it -- lagging behind the Giants and Mets in the National League Wild Card standings.
Friday's series opener at Wrigley Field unraveled in a first inning that saw Mike Leake throw 31 pitches and closed with the Cardinals down by four. There were mishandled plays in the field, key pitches not executed and two wild pitches. It was a sloppy start from which the Cards never recovered, despite the bullpen's scoreless performance.
"You're playing against good teams," manager Mike Matheny said. "You've got a guy out there who throws the ball well. You're going to have to be very clean. Being down four to a good team puts your back against the wall. It's not an easy assignment any time, let alone against a guy who just won a Cy Young [Award]."
That guy, of course, is Jake Arrieta, who, in contrast to Leake's laborious start, struck out the side in an 11-pitch first frame.
Leake's trouble started with a leadoff walk, before Kolten Wong's lack of familiarity in left field, where he was starting for the third time in his career, showed. Wong couldn't keep Dexter Fowler from going first-to-third on Kris Bryant's single to left, and then his awkward route ended with a face-plant after Anthony Rizzo lined a ball his way.
Catching his feet in the sod, Wong tumbled to the ground. One run scored, and Rizzo jogged into second.
"As soon as I put my foot down, it was out," Wong said. "There was no stopping it. That [sod] lifted up right away. You have to be aggressive in that situation. If I catch that ball and don't fall, there's a chance I put a play on at home plate."
Because the Cardinals did not take on-field batting practice prior to the day game, Wong had not tested his footing in this particular outfield grass until the game was underway. Neither of the misplays were cited as errors, but add them to the growing list of plays not made by a team that has been defensively unsound all season.
Leake's lack of execution didn't help, either. The Cubs turned four hits, a walk and two bounced wild pitches into four runs as Leake watched yet another inning snowball under his watch.
Leake would then be pulled after 3 1/3 innings, marking the fourth time in 10 games that a Cardinals starter hasn't finished four frames. As for Leake, he remains winless in four starts since coming off the disabled list.
The loss was the Cardinals' seventh in 12 games, a subpar stretch that has left them unavailable to take advantage while the Mets and Giants seemingly run in place. There are nine games remaining on the team's regular-season schedule.
"When you start worrying about other teams, you get caught up in them instead of worrying about yourself," Wong said. "We can only take care of what we can take care of. The rest, let it fall as it will. We have no control over how they're going to play. We can only control how we play."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.