CINCINNATI — The season has brought one setback after another for the St. Louis Cardinals: manager Tony La Russa’s drunken-driving arrest, reliever Josh Hancock’s death, a series of injuries to everyday players.
The defending World Series champions may be running out of resilience.
Joey Votto hit a two-run double, and David Ross followed with a two-run homer Thursday, sending the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-4 victory that completed the Cardinals’ road trip to ruin.
The Cardinals lost all seven games on the trip, capped by the first three-game sweep in Cincinnati since July 1998. It’s their first winless trip of at least seven games since May 1972 when they went 0-7 in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
It’s a bad time to be making historical references.
“We’re a little flat, things aren’t going our way, and we’re not playing good baseball,” outfielder Jim Edmonds said. “All those add up to losses. It’s really no different than it was at the beginning of the year. It’s just a bad time for it right now.”
The Cardinals had surged from 10 1/2 games out at the end of June to within a game of first place in the NL Central before hitting the road. The latest loss dropped them 4 1/2 games out.
“It’s just been — I don’t even know how to word it,” said Kip Wells (6-17), who lost his fourth straight start. “It’s just been tough. We haven’t caught any breaks.”
Votto doubled home a pair of runs in the fifth off Wells, and Ross followed with his first homer since July 23. The catcher had been 1-for-15 since returning from a concussion on Aug. 28.
Aaron Harang (15-4) gave up three hits and three sacrifice flies, two by Albert Pujols, in seven innings. David Weathers gave up Edmonds’ RBI single in the ninth before becoming the ninth Cincinnati closer to reach the 30-save mark.
The sweep was particularly pleasing for the Reds, who were swept in a three-game series in St. Louis from Aug. 31-Sept. 2.
“We went into their place and they smacked us around,” Harang said. “So it was nice to come back and take three from them, especially with the playoffs right around the corner. It’ll make them work that much harder to get back in the race.”
The Reds were still holding out hope of getting back into contention until they landed in St. Louis two weeks ago. Since then, they’ve been relegated to playing it out.
“We went in there kind of on a roll and they stuck it to us,” Ross said. “I don’t know if we knocked them out of the playoff hunt, but we did a good job of hurting their chances.”
It was the Cardinals’ costliest trip of the season by far.
In addition to losing precious games in the standings, they lost third baseman Scott Rolen, who had shoulder surgery on Tuesday, and outfielder Chris Duncan, who aggravated a hernia and is likely out for the season.
Now, they’re running out of time. They play four games against the Cubs this weekend in St. Louis, and have three left in Milwaukee, the two teams they’re chasing.
The Cardinals faced the Reds’ top two starters during the series and didn’t do much against either. They lost to Bronson Arroyo 7-2 on Wednesday night.
David Eckstein led off Thursday’s game with a double and scored on Pujols’ sacrifice fly. Eckstein was the only Cardinal to manage a hit off Harang in the first five innings.
The Reds wasted several chances against the enigmatic Wells, who lost seven straight games earlier this season and now has lost his last four starts. The Reds left the bases loaded in the third when Edwin Encarnacion popped out.
They loaded the bases again in the fourth, but managed only Jeff Keppinger’s sacrifice fly that tied the score at 1. Votto’s RBI double, his third hit of the game, broke the tie in the fifth, and Ross followed with his first homer in 53 at-bats.
Another sign of how things are going for St. Louis: It was only the third homer off Wells in the right-hander’s past 71 innings.