DENVER -- There's a long-held baseball assumption that teams set themselves up for a place in the postseason by playing winning baseball at home and maintaining a .500 record on the road. The Cardinals -- by virtue of where they sit in the division with two months to play -- no longer have that luxury.
St. Louis took a split on this six-game swing, but had every opportunity to do much more. And by letting winnable games against a pair of clubs with a combined .393 winning percentage instead end up in the loss column, the Cardinals did little to jump-start a methodic move up in the division standings.
The road trip concluded with an 8-2 loss to the Rockies in front of 29,659 fans at Coors Field on Thursday.
"Not good enough," Matt Holliday said of the outcome. "3-3 against two teams that are under .500 is not going to cut it."
"It's not exactly what you're looking for," manager Mike Matheny said, "when you're trying to gain ground."
Instead of gaining, the Cardinals lost. A red-hot Reds team continues to reel off wins -- 13 of 14 after another on Thursday -- and that leaves the Cardinals headed home 2 1/2 games further back in the standings (eight games behind overall) than when they last left.
"It's one of those times where you wish you could have won a couple more," said Lance Lynn, who took a no-decision in the loss. "We've been on a pretty good run. It's just one of those things that the teams we're chasing have been on a little bit better run."
The Cardinals, who missed an opportunity to claim their first three-game sweep in Colorado since '04, can look back at all three road losses as games that could have easily turned the other way.
Two losses, by a combined three runs, came in Chicago, where the Cardinals went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position over the weekend. And while Thursday's final score reflects a runaway win by Colorado, the Cardinals' offense again had a chance to change that script early.
"I thought we had some chances to do some more damage, but their starter threw really good for most of the game," said Lance Berkman, whose right knee became a source of discomfort for him as the night progressed.
"It's just a rough night offensively. We could have done more, and we didn't."
That was no more evident than in the sixth, when the Cardinals were on the cusp of a breakout inning against Rockies starter Alex White. Jon Jay's one-out triple evened the game at 1, and, after Holliday was intentionally walked, Carlos Beltran came up clutch with an RBI double.
A rattled White then plunked David Freese to fill the bases.
Berkman's at-bat, though, resulted in an inning-ending double play. St. Louis didn't record another hit all night. The Cardinals had earlier wasted a leadoff third-inning double by Tony Cruz.
"The situational hitting," Matheny said. "We have to make it happen."
Those missed chances to tack on were magnified further when the Rockies answered to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth. A leadoff walk, single and sacrifice fly cost Lynn a chance to position himself for a win.
The inning was Lynn's last on a night in which he allowed seven hits and walked four. He exited with the game even at 2.
"When you leave the ball over the plate here, it seems to put you in trouble a little bit," Lynn said. "Once we got the lead, I gave it right back, which you never want to do."
All unraveled upon Lynn's exit, as a bullpen that had a recent scoreless-innings streak of 19 2/3 allowed six runs in the seventh and eighth.
Fernando Salas was battered first, in a seventh inning that has given the Cardinals' bullpen fits all year. A single and sacrifice brought up left-handed-hitting outfielder Tyler Colvin. Matheny had lefty Barret Browning warming up, but opted to stick with Salas.
Salas, who has been hit by lefties at a .317 clip this year, served up a go-ahead double.
"He's been throwing the ball well and before we made the move to get [reliever Edward] Mujica, Salas was our guy for the seventh inning," Matheny said. "We could have burned through five pitchers if we wanted to, but we have faith in the guy to get it done."
That was the basis for Matheny's decision. Had he brought in Browning to face Colvin, another matchup dilemma would have surfaced. A right-handed hitter was in the on-deck circle.
As it was, things only got worse for Salas. Josh Rutledge blasted a two-run homer to push the Rockies' lead to three. Rutledge, who entered the series with two career home runs in his first 58 Major League at-bats, hit one in each of the three games in this series and four consecutive games overall.
"Having [White] go out and give us the start that he did just gives us so much confidence," Rutledge said. "We knew, how he was throwing, we had a really good shot at winning that game."
Browning and Brian Fuentes were then both tagged for runs in the eighth.
The Cardinals are now set to play 16 of their next 19 games at home, a scheduling favor that the Cardinals have to capitalize upon. If there's anything to temper some of the anticipation for the home-heavy stretch, though, it's injuries. Berkman, Rafael Furcal and Yadier Molina are all scheduled to see the team doctor on Friday because of various ailments.
"We have a pretty good stretch coming up," Lynn said, "to where we can catch some ground."
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.