A little more than a month after they were leading the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are struggling to just stay relevant in the playoff race.
More games like their last could make that very tough.
Kyle Lohse will go for career win No. 100 Sunday as the Cardinals try to avoid consecutive home losses to the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time in four years.
St. Louis (69-64) dropped to 2-4 on this seven-game homestand with a 7-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday for its 11th defeat in 18 games.
The Cardinals managed seven hits as they were shut out at home by the Pirates (62-70) for the first time since 2007. Brad Lincoln pitched six innings and Josh Harrison drove in a career-high three runs.
After owning a half-game lead in the Central on July 26, the Cardinals are quickly falling out of contention. They were hoping to cut some of their deficit against first-place Milwaukee before the teams open a series next week.
"What situation are we in?" catcher Yadier Molina said. "We're going to come every day ready to play the game. We ain't going to back off."
They haven't been helped by the recent struggles of their starters, who are 1-3 with a 9.36 ERA over the last five games after going 6-4 with a 3.28 ERA over the previous 16.
Chris Carpenter gave up six runs in five innings Saturday as St. Louis' bullpen was called upon early again. The team's relievers have pitched 20 innings in the last five games, giving up eight runs and 13 hits.
Looking to provide some relief for the taxed bullpen, the Cardinals will hand the ball to Lohse (11-8, 3.73 ERA), who is trying a second time for his 100th win.
The right-hander failed miserably in his first attempt, allowing eight runs and eight hits in three innings of a 13-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday. The loss snapped a personal three-game winning streak and matched his shortest outing of the season.
"One of those nights they just hit everything I threw," Lohse said. "A lot balls that came back over the plate. I wasn't hitting my spots well."
Lohse stands a good chance of bouncing back as he makes his fourth appearance against Pittsburgh this year. He is 6-2 with a 3.50 ERA in his career against the Pirates and has split a pair decisions this year. Lohse gave up two runs in seven innings of a 7-2 win Aug. 17 at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh counters with Jeff Karstens (9-7, 3.09), who gave up two runs in seven innings of an 8-1 loss to Milwaukee on Monday.
Karstens felt a cramp in his shoulder during that start and underwent a variety of tests this week, which came back negative. He felt no discomfort during his long-toss or bullpen sessions.
Karstens is 1-1 with a 2.31 ERA in four career starts against the Cardinals. He surrendered three runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 5-4, 11-inning win Aug. 16.
The Pirates haven't won consecutive games in St. Louis in the same series since April 16 and 17, 2007.