A struggling starter and a somnolent offense added up to a 7-2 Cardinals loss to the Mets at Shea Stadium on Friday night. St. Louis has lost five straight after a five-game winning streak, while New York has won 14 of 17.
Rookie Mitchell Boggs saw his ERA climb to 7.36 after the Mets hammered him for the second time in as many meetings, highlighting the urgency for the Cardinals to regain their two injured aces, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. They got very good news on one of those fronts on Friday, when Carpenter turned in an excellent rehab start at Triple-A Memphis.
In the here and now, though, little is going right for the Redbirds. And no such offensive boost is looming on the horizon, save for whatever potential upgrades the club might make before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"I think we're going about it right," manager Tony La Russa said. "We've just got to keep working and see if we can break through."
The Cardinals feasted on last-place teams immediately before and after the All-Star break, going 6-1 against the Pirates and Padres. But in their last 14 games against contending teams -- the Mets, Cubs, Phillies and Brewers -- the Redbirds have gone 3-11.
Boggs never gave in on Friday night, but his command simply wasn't sharp enough to hold down a potent offense. He walked three of the game's first eight batters, though he escaped from the first and second without being scored upon. By the third, however, Boggs began getting too much of the strike zone, and the Mets started to tee off.
David Wright struck an RBI double in the third, Jose Reyes added a two-run triple in the fourth and Carlos Delgado drilled a two-run homer before Boggs was lifted for Randy Flores.
"Any time you get behind these guys, time after time, they're going to end up beating you," Boggs said. "I just threw too many pitches early in the game. My pitch count was up. They got to see too many pitches and they came back to get me in the fourth and fifth innings."
The rookie starters the Cardinals have employed in the absence of their two stars have consistently struggled. Boggs, Mike Parisi and Jaime Garcia have combined for an 8.86 ERA in eight starts with 29 walks against 20 strikeouts. That, in turn, has helped to expose a bullpen that fared reasonably well early in the year but has frayed of late.
One pitcher who has thrived in spot starts was passed over on Friday night. Brad Thompson has a 2.87 ERA in three starts with 12 strikeouts and four walks. However, Thompson's ability in the bullpen contributed to the decision to start Boggs on Friday night.
"[Boggs] did some good things, but that's why it's the big leagues," La Russa said. "He made some mistakes and he paid. There were some things he did good. But he made a couple mistakes and got hurt."
And with the St. Louis offense scuffling, a couple of mistakes were more than enough. This time it was Mets starter Mike Pelfrey keeping the Redbirds quiet. The Cardinals didn't score until the sixth inning, when Troy Glaus poked an RBI single up the middle to make a small dent in New York's lead.
The Cards threatened against the New York bullpen in the ninth, loading the bases with no outs. But Skip Schumaker popped up, Ryan Ludwick hit a sacrifice fly for a single run, and Albert Pujols grounded out to end the game. Pujols finished with an 0-for-5 night, including three strikeouts.
"He had a rough day," La Russa said. "It happened to Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial. It happens to all of them."
The Cardinals have scored 11 runs during their losing streak and have not tallied more than three in any of the five games. St. Louis remains four games out of first place in the National League Central.
"It seems like we've seen some good pitchers, and at the same time, it's just baseball," said Rick Ankiel. "You go through hot and cold spells. When you're going through those, you just hope you can find enough to make it work. Lately we haven't, but hopefully we'll turn it around here."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.