Cards' season defined by struggles vs. rivals

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A 4-1 loss at Wrigley Field on Saturday sunk the Cardinals five back of the Cubs in the National League Central with 14 games remaining. The Brewers are still in their way, too, and the Rockies took a four-game advantage over St. Louis for the last NL Wild Card spot into their Saturday night matchup with the Padres.

The Cardinals, who have the fewest intradivision wins (28) of anyone in the NL Central, have won just four of their 14 games against the Cubs. Had they won even half of those head-to-head matchups thus far, the Cardinals would be sitting in first place.

“They’re a good squad, and they’re going for blood, as we all are,” said Dexter Fowler, now on the other side of this rivalry. “It’s just a matter of going out and executing. Sometimes we can’t take advantage of the big opportunities. They make mistakes, and we have to capitalize on them. Likewise, when we have made mistakes, they’ve capitalized.”

That was the case again on Saturday, when the Cubs cashed in as starter Michael Wacha issued a series of walks and after Fowler’s fourth-inning throw to third wasn’t accurate enough to erase the lead runner.

An inning earlier, the Cardinals’ best run-scoring opportunity went wasted when Tommy Pham grounded into an inning-ending double play. The Cardinals finished the day hitless with runners in scoring position.

“We’ve got to find a way to win, and we’ve got to play them better,” Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said. “We haven’t had enough to beat them to this point.”

The good news for the Cardinals is that they’re not yet out of chances.

In addition to Sunday’s series finale at Wrigley Field, the Cardinals will open their final homestand of the year with four more games against the Cubs. Win all five, and the Cardinals could turn the NL Central upside down.

“We know every game is precious right now, and we just have to get back to winning some ballgames,” Wacha said. “We know that we have a lot of games left with the guys ahead of us, and it’s up to us to go out there and win those games.”

Though the season series is lopsided, the overall run differential is not. The Cubs have outscored the Cardinals by only five runs (56-51), but have made up for that by going 5-1 in one-run games.

The Cubs’ edge in the head-to-head matchups has come most noticeably in two areas. Chicago’s rotation has been better (3.21 ERA to the Cardinals’ 4.38), and the Cubs have been more productive with runners in scoring position (.287 batting average) than has St. Louis (.225).

Chicago has already clinched consecutive season series wins against the Cardinals for the first time since 2005-08. The Cardinals hope they haven’t run out of time to prevent them from clinching anything more.

“We’ve got to play the game, every one of them, whether it’s against them or anybody else,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “And we’ve got to play a little bit better.”

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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