(Sports Network) - A road trip against National League teams hasn't gone well thus far for the Oakland Athletics, who'll make the next stop of their nine- game swing with tonight's first of three straight meetings with the St. Louis Cardinals from Busch Stadium.
Oakland has lost five of the first six tests of the trek, having been swept in three games by Bay Area-rival San Francisco last weekend before dropping two of three matchups to the Chicago Cubs. The A's have mustered a total of only 12 runs over those five defeats, and their offense struggled once again in a 3-2 setback to the Cubs on Thursday.
The Athletics were able to scratch out runs in the fifth and seventh innings of last night's game, with Mark Ellis' solo homer in the seventh giving Oakland a 2-1 lead. However, Chicago tied the contest in the bottom of the eighth before coming up with the winning run in the ninth, when the Cubs loaded the bases on three walks issued by reliever Jerry Blevins (2-1) and Kosuke Fukudome followed with a one-out single to plate Geovany Soto.
The loss spoiled a strong effort from A's starter Dallas Braden, who held the Cubs to one run and five hits over the first six innings. The left-hander still hasn't won since his May 9 perfect game against Tampa Bay, though, having gone 0-4 in seven outings following that performance.
"He hasn't thrown that bad," Oakland manager Bob Geren said of Braden. "He hasn't had a win, but he's had some games where he's pitched pretty decent."
The Athletics fell to 5-11 in June with Thursday's result, and have lost seven of nine road tilts over that stretch.
Oakland's chances for a turnaround don't appear that promising, considering Chris Carpenter will be taking the mound for the Cardinals. The All-Star hurler is in the midst of another terrific season, having won seven of his first eight decisions and posting a sound 2.66 earned run average through 14 starts. He's been especially good at home, where the standout righty has compiled a 5-1 mark with a 2.16 ERA in seven Busch Stadium assignments so far in 2010.
Carpenter was reached for three runs in six innings his most recent time out, a no-decision at Arizona last Sunday in which he registered eight strikeouts. Prior to that appearance, the 2005 National League Cy Young Award recipient had given up a mere two runs over a combined 21 2/3 innings of work in a three-start span from May 28-June 8, winning twice and not getting a decision during that time frame.
The 35-year-old is just 1-3 with a 5.60 ERA in nine career games (seven starts) against Oakland, but hasn't faced the Athletics since his days as a Toronto Blue Jay back in 2002.
Geren's squad will turn to Vin Mazzaro tonight in hopes of breaking out of its slump. The young right-hander will be making his fourth start and seventh overall appearance of the season and brings a 2-1 record with a 4.81 ERA into this evening's clash.
Mazzaro was placed in the Oakland rotation earlier this month following an injury to Brian Anderson and turned in a good showing to defeat the Los Angeles Angels on June 8, yielding only one run on five hits over five innings. He wasn't as sharp in a six-inning stint at San Francisco last Sunday, allowing four runs (three earned) and serving up a pair of homers in a 6-2 loss to the Giants.
The 23-year-old made 17 starts as a rookie last season and produced a 4-9 ledger with a 5.32 ERA.
Mazzaro will be taking on a St. Louis team that's lost seven of its past 10 tilts but did prevail in its first two bouts with AL West member Seattle earlier in the week. The Mariners were able to avoid a sweep, though, with a 2-1 decision in Wednesday's series finale at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals could manage only six hits, three of which came from third baseman David Freese, off Jason Vargas and a pair of Seattle relievers in the finale. Ryan Ludwick knocked in the team's only run with a fourth-inning sacrifice fly that scored reigning NL MVP Albert Pujols.
St. Louis wasted another quality start from rookie Jaime Garcia (6-3), who permitted just two runs and struck out seven Mariners in seven innings.
"We didn't give him enough run support for him to win the game," said Pujols. "We just didn't put our hits together back-to-back."
Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday went 0-for-4 in Wednesday's loss and will be opposing the Athletics for the first time since being traded from Oakland to St. Louis last July. The accomplished hitter batted .353 with 13 homers in 63 games following the swap to help the Cards win the 2009 NL Central title.
St. Louis skipper Tony La Russa also has ties to the Athletics organization, having managed Oakland for 10 seasons between 1986-1995. Under La Russa's watch, the A's captured four AL West crowns, reached the World Series three times and won the 1989 world championship.
La Russa's Cardinals have won five of six all-time encounters with Oakland and swept a three-game series from the Athletics at the original Busch Stadium back in 2004.