WASHINGTON -- Adam Wainwright was looking to put a bow tie on a sensational month with his start on Friday. He looked to bump his August win total to six, while also again playing stopper to a Cardinals' losing streak. The latter was a role he had been embracing with regularity lately.
But Nationals Park turned nightmarish for Wainwright, who endured the shortest start of his career on an evening when the Cardinals desperately needed someone to step up. Wainwright couldn't and the offense didn't, which all led to a 10-0 loss to the Nationals in front of 29,499 fans.
With four straight losses, the Cardinals now have to win both games this weekend in order to break even on this 10-game road trip.
"We've played as bad as we can lately," Wainwright said. "We haven't shown up the last couple games, especially me."
Skip Schumaker's assessment was even stronger.
"I think it's the four worst games offensively that I've ever been a part of, to be honest with you, because of the way our offense is," Schumaker said. "I wouldn't say that if I didn't feel really good about our offense. It's really frustrating. It's more frustrating because of the lineup we have. You do run into some good pitching, of course, but our lineup is too good for this to happen."
Indeed, there has been almost nothing to lately worth highlighting.
Since Monday, the club has been outscored, 32-1. With five hits on Friday, the Cardinals have just 19 in the last four games combined. In comparison, the Cardinals opened this road trip with 52 hits in their first four games. They went 3-1 during that stretch.
"This shouldn't happen to us one day, let alone four," manager Mike Matheny said. "These guys are embarrassed right now. We're all embarrassed. That's not the team we are. It just adds to the frustration. I don't think the guys are going up there defeated. It's just as much baffling to them as it is to all of us."
However, it would be unjust to pile all the blame onto the offense. The starting pitching has endured a collective dip, too.
The Cardinals have not had a starter pitch six innings in any of their last six games. On this road trip, the starting staff holds a combined ERA of 8.84.
It leaves the club barely clinging onto the second Wild Card berth and seemingly without hope of catching the Reds in the National League Central. The division deficit is now a season-worst 9 1/2 games.
"It's time to grind," Matheny said. "There's nothing easy about this, and no one expected it to be. We have to push right now and dig a little deeper. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us that we've had a rough go here the last few days. And if we start buying into that, we're in trouble."
Wainwright began the night a candidate for NL Pitcher of the Month honors. He had allowed six runs, 29 hits and five walks in his first 36 2/3 August innings. He won all five of those starts.
In 2 2/3 innings on Friday, Wainwright matched that run total on nine hits and three walks. Two scored in the first inning before Washington pushed across four in the third.
Wainwright faced nine batters and threw 44 pitches in that third inning and still couldn't finish it.
"There were some quality at-bats," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Wainwright was not as sharp, we laid off pitches."
Having to rely too heavily on his off-speed pitches to compensate for shaky fastball command, Wainwright's biggest issue was not finishing hitters off. Of the 12 baserunners to reach against him, nine actually fell behind 0-2 or 1-2 during their at-bat.
"That's what happens against a good lineup when you're erratic and all around the zone," Wainwright said. "If I'm putting guys away like I normally do, then this is a completely different story."
While Wainwright did nothing to turn momentum the Cardinals' way, the offense provided no pick-me-up, either. Held to a lone unearned run in the team's last four games, St. Louis strung together nine more zeros on the scoreboard Friday.
In doing so, the club was shut out for the third time in four nights.
"They're good, yeah, but we're having a hard time," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "We all know [Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez] has great stuff and is pitching with confidence and we're not scoring runs. That's a bad combination."
"We just stunk tonight," added Schumaker. "We did. We stunk."
Gonzalez kept the Cardinals hitless until the fifth, though St. Louis did have ample middle-inning opportunities to stir up some offense against the lefty. The leadoff hitter reached in five different innings, but Washington used three double plays to thwart potential rallies.
The Cardinals also didn't help themselves by going hitless in nine at-bats with a runner in scoring position. During this four-game skid, the club is 2-for-20 in such spots.
"Right now there's no question that it's coming across flat," Matheny said. "It's coming across anti-everything we've been the whole season. Even through bad stretches this team has played real hard. These times come and the really good teams limit how long it lasts. I think if you go ask every guy in that room and it's lasted longer than it should have."
If the Cards are to snap out of the funk on Saturday, it'll have to be done against a pitcher in Jordan Zimmermann, who has the league's second-lowest ERA.
"We've gone through five months, and we're too good for four games to call it a concern," Schumaker said. "We're too good for to be concerned. We've run into some very good arms, but we're better than this."
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.