ST. LOUIS -- Attempting to gain traction after a much-welcomed off-day on Monday, the Cardinals instead found their lineup bamboozled by a little-known young starter.
Left-hander Jose Qunitana, in his fourth Major League start, outdueled a plenty sharp Adam Wainwright on Tuesday, leading the White Sox to a 6-1 series-opening win over the Cardinals in front of 40,972 at Busch Stadium.
The loss dropped St. Louis' season record to .500 (31-31) and its Interleague mark to 1-3. And while this particular defeat was affixed to Wainwright's record, now 5-7, it could have been pinned on just about anyone but him.
Despite tallying 10 hits off Quintana in 5 1/3 innings, the Cardinals' offense scored just once. The defense, while not committing an error, muffed two potential outs in the second inning, which led directly to Chicago's first two runs. And the bullpen turned a one-run game into a rout.
It should have been, manager Mike Matheny emphasized afterward, en eye-opening display to a team that has gone from treading water to sinking in recent weeks.
"I think you can see a contrast," said Matheny, whose team has dropped 20 of its last 31. "You can see one team with a lot of confidence, just the way they walk onto the field and the way they play the game. And you're seeing a team on the other side, not so much. Those are things, in my opinion, that start at the top. We have to figure out how to get it back because we had it, and it's there, it's in us. But right now, we're not doing it. We're not showing it.
"Obviously, wins create that confidence and that breeds more. But right now we have to go out there, and we can control the way we go about our business. I think we need to go about it expecting to win and not expecting for things to happen and the wheels to fall off."
The Cardinals Interleague start has mirrored much of what Matheny watched on Tuesday. The offense has mustered a total of six runs in four games, squandering the chance to build some momentum behind several strong starts.
The rotation has done its part, allowing only six earned runs in a combined 25 2/3 innings. The only win, however, came in a shutout victory on Saturday.
"We just have to do everything better," Wainwright said.
Ironically, the one who was good enough on Tuesday was Wainwright, good enough, certainly, to avoid losing for the second time in three starts.
He struck out seven in as many innings, and allowed only five hits. Three, though, came in the second inning and were augmented by a pair of defensive miscues.
David Freese fielded a routine chopper with one on and no out that should have garnered two outs. But a bobble prevented a double play. Alex Rio reached first before the relay throw.
A.J. Pierzynski followed with a popup to shallow center that second baseman Tyler Greene, who initially broke in on contact, couldn't corral. Another out not taken turned costly when, with two down, Orlando Hudson knocked a two-run triple.
"That's pretty indicative of things that have happened this season," Matheny said. "We make a mistake, it gets capitalized on."
Wainwright followed with five scoreless frames, but the offense, while stirring against Quintana, couldn't strike.
Three double plays, two of which ended innings with another runner on, didn't help. Neither did the two hits in eight opportunities with runners in scoring position. Multi-hit innings in the second, third and fourth produced nothing but stranded runners.
The Cardinals finally carved into that lead with a run in the sixth. Down 2-0, Matt Holliday doubled and scored on a one-out single by Allen Craig.
Perhaps surprising for a game in which the Cards scored just once, multi-hit games were enjoyed all around. Holliday, Freese, Greene and Craig finished with two hits. The team ended the night with 11 hits -- matching Chicago's total.
Having begun the year 11-2 when recording that many hits in a game, St. Louis has lost five of its last nine such games.
"I just think we need to pick it up from within, bring a little more energy to the ballpark," said Craig, whose compromised mobility appeared to keep him from scoring from second on a second-inning single.
"I don't know. I genuinely feel that things are going to turn around for us. I think we're a good enough team that we're going to be all right."
The bullpen inherited a one-run game, but immediately pushed the game out of striking distance. Marc Rzepczynski was knocked around first, giving up three hits, including a crushing blow by Adam Dunn. Dunn's 21st home run pushed the lead to three.
Mitchell Boggs entered to keep that deficit manageable and served up a two-run blast to A.J. Pierzynski.
While Boggs' hiccup was mostly atypical for the right-hander, Rzepczynski's troubles were more of a recent norm. He has been pitching without the luxury of a consistent breaking ball for much of the season, and it was indeed a slider that cost him against Dunn, who fouled off three fastballs to get to the pitch.
"It's just getting back on it and figuring out what I'm doing different between last year and this year," said Rzepczynski, whose ERA now sits at 5.48. "Usually, it's been locating my heater that's been the big thing. Usually when I need to throw a breaking pitch for a strike or as a put-away pitch, that's my thing. I'll figure it out."
He's not alone in his search.
"We're a much better team than we're playing," Wainwright said. "And we will play better. We just have to wake up a little bit."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.