Sunday's game only lasted three hours and 12 minutes, but it was an effective recap of the past few weeks for the Cards, who lost to the Nationals, 6-3, in an agonizing loss that brought an agonizing week to an end.
"I told a few guys that I don't see any reason why we can't come off this road trip 6-0," reliever Ryan Franklin said. "I thought we matched up well against these guys, but they outplayed us."
Instead the team went 1-5 against the Pirates and Nationals, two teams currently in last place in their respective divisions. The losses came right as the team was coming off a series win against Milwaukee and starting to make up some ground in the National League Central race.
Now the team is eight games back as it heads home to face the Padres and Dodgers, two of the top teams in the NL West.
On Sunday, starter Adam Wainwright delivered a solid performance for the team, even though he struggled to get out of the third inning, in which he allowed two runs. The second came after Ryan Church was intentionally walked to get to backup catcher Jesus Flores. Wainwright then hit Flores, loading the bases and setting the stage for a broken-bat RBI single by Nook Logan.
"I gave up three runs," Wainwright said. "Two of them are really tough for me to take right now, because I made good pitches."
Wainwright finished with seven strikeouts in a 115-pitch outing. He battled the Washington heat for seven innings, giving the bullpen some much-needed rest.
He received offensive support from himself, hitting a long home run in the fourth inning. The team also picked up a solo home run from Ryan Ludwick in the second inning and an RBI double from Jim Edmonds in the fifth.
When Wainwright turned over the reins to Franklin, it was a 3-3 game in the eighth inning. Franklin then suffered through another round of misfortune. He got Ryan Zimmerman to an 0-2 count, then Zimmerman fouled off the next four pitches before finally hitting an RBI single to bring in the winning run.
"I can't hang my head and say I made a mistake or anything," Franklin said. "He didn't hit it hard, he just got lucky and hit it in the right spot."
Whereas the Nationals were scoring runs at almost every opportunity, the Cards couldn't come up with key hits. In the third inning, they loaded the bases but did not score, the fourth time that has happened in the past two games.
"We didn't produce, and we didn't catch some breaks," Albert Pujols said. "This is a road trip where we should have been above .500."
Instead the team looks ahead to the next two weeks, a span in which they'll face the Padres and Dodgers, then hit the road for another round against the Cubs and Brewers.
"I was looking at our schedule," Wainwright said. "I don't think we're out of it by any means."
For the Cardinals to win, they're going to need to find the right mix of pitching, hitting and luck that it takes to win close games.
The optimism was more guarded on Sunday, a result of a tough week of baseball for a team that had been on a winning streak. Now they head home with a key stretch of the schedule looming.
"These next 14 days are going to be important for us," Pujols said.
Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.