SAN DIEGO -- After a thrilling extra-inning victory Sunday night, the energetic Cardinals took an upbeat flight here, hoping they were carrying some momentum that could finally get them on the roll they've been searching for.
They must not have packed enough of it, as the Cardinals were routed in a crucial 11-3 loss to the Padres on Monday night that allowed the idle Dodgers to pull within one game of the second Wild Card spot, currently in the hands of St. Louis (75-66).
The fact that the Cardinals had to pack bags at all signaled a cause for concern for starter Jaime Garcia, whose enigmatic struggles on the road continued in a big way. Garcia, who is 2-5 with a 6.19 ERA away from home as opposed to 2-2 with a 2.63 in St. Louis, threw just three innings in which he gave up four runs on seven hits and three walks. The 26-year-old is 18-11 with a 2.42 ERA at home in his career. He's 13-12 with a 4.69 ERA on the road.
When asked if the wide home/road divide was in the back of his mind and a part of Monday's mediocrity, Garcia was short but stern.
"No. Just a bad one. Try to get ready for the next one," he said.
While Garcia says his road struggles don't play into his mindset, the dichotomy is certainly a frustrating puzzle for his manager, Mike Matheny.
"I have no idea why. If I did, then we'd do something to fix it," said Matheny. "There's not a good explanation: It's 60 feet, six inches. You can't deny that it's something he's struggling with."
For a short while, it looked as if Garcia might be able to shed his trouble with travel and help the Cardinals unpack some of that momentum. After a Logan Forsythe triple in the first, Garcia walked Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin to load the bases before striking out two Padres to end a big first-inning threat.
Pete Kozma helped turn that escape into some added momentum when he clubbed a two-run triple the next half inning that gave St. Louis a two-run lead.
"Kozma had a great day," Matheny said. "He had a big hit for us early on, couple RBIs. It was a big momentum shifter. ... He had a good day all the way around. It was nice to see."
But Garcia gave those two runs right back in the bottom of the inning, and then proceeded to yield a two-run homer to Cameron Maybin in the third that left the Cardinals trailing for good.
The Redbirds relief corps didn't fare much better. Four relievers combined to yield seven runs in six innings of work. One of those hurlers was the Cardinals' top pitching prospect, Shelby Miller, who gave up two runs in his first inning of work and none in his next two in just his second Major League outing.
"The other two innings were good. Started throwing my off-speed," said Miller, who is still adjusting to his current role as a reliever after being a starter throughout his career. "Everything felt good but my fastball. Fastball command was a little iffy today."
In addition to the two runs the Padres (67-75) tacked on against Miller, they would add two in the seventh and three in the eighth to bury the Cardinals. All told, St. Louis pitchers yielded 17 hits and eight walks.
"We got a lead, quickly lost it, and then couldn't get it stopped," Matheny said. "... We just had a rough time getting people out tonight."
The Cardinals did have nine hits, three of them from Kozma, who recorded his first career multihit game with a double, triple and two RBIs. Allen Craig's RBI single in the sixth upped his NL-leading average with runners in scoring position to .396 (40-for-101). Matt Holliday, who grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the seventh, also had two hits.
But that offensive output went for naught, thanks in part to another rough start from Garcia on the road, a cause for concern given that his next three starts all line up to be away from Busch Stadium. His next start is scheduled for Saturday at Dodger Stadium in what will undoubtedly be one of his most important outings of the season given that Los Angeles is closing fast on the Cardinals and their Wild Card spot.
Given the importance of those games -- and how quickly Monday's got away from St. Louis -- Matheny said he would always "consider" changes to the rotation that could involve shifting Garcia to more home starts. But for now, he and the Cardinals will try to continue to solve the mystery as they push toward the playoffs.
"I'm not going to tell you one way or another," Matheny said when asked about potential changes. "We're going to continue to work at it, even though we can't really define it. We'll see what happens. Right now we just go on the mindset that we can do something to help fix it."
Chelsea Janes is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.