Cardinals must make hay in four-game set at San Diego

SAN DIEGO -- When the San Diego Padres visited St. Louis two weeks ago, the Cardinals saw it as opportunity.The Padres had just dropped three of their past four games at home while the Cardinals were just 3 1/2 games off the National League Central lead.

However, San Diego won two of the three games at Busch Stadium, starting a bit of a slide for the Cardinals, who now find themselves six games behind the surging Chicago Cubs in the division. St. Louis is three games out of the second NL wild card.

To remain a contender, the Cardinals need to jump the Padres this week at Petco Park in a four-game series that commences Monday afternoon with Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez (10-10, 3.52 ERA) facing San Diego right-hander Luis Perdomo (7-8, 4.69).

On paper, St. Louis and Martinez would seem to have the edge.

The Cardinals (69-67) won three of four in San Francisco over the weekend. And the 6-foot, 200-pound Martinez has the ninth-best ERA in the NL and also ranks among league leaders in strikeouts (sixth, 182), innings pitched (fourth, 174), opponents' batting average (eighth, .234), WHIP (tied for 10th, 1.21), quality starts (tied for fourth, 18) and strikeouts per nine innings (seventh, 9.41).

The Padres (62-75) are coming off three straight wins against the runaway NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

One of San Diego's three victories in St. Louis came in a game started by Perdomo, who is also a groundball-oriented pitcher.

A Rule 5 draft pick going into the 2016 season, Perdomo gave up two runs on seven hits and two walks over six innings against the Cardinals on Aug. 24. He allowed three runs in an inning of relief a year ago in his only other appearance versus St. Louis.

"Luis has really made some positive strides recently," Padres manager Andy Green said. "He had been missing some of his spots by half the plate earlier, but his fastball command has improved greatly the last few times out, and he's developed the ability to avoid the big inning.

"He's really commanded his fastball the way we've asked him to command it, and he's shown some flashes of a really good slider. To me, fastball command gives him a chance to be really, really good."

Martinez is already really, really good, but a flaw in his game developed over his past two starts. Two throwing errors led to five unearned runs.

"He's causing himself some damage," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after a Martinez throwing error on a comebacker resulted in three unearned runs in a 6-5 loss at Milwaukee on Wednesday.

"That's twice," Matheny said of the errors. "He should be one of the best defensive pitchers in the league. He's a great athlete, but he's made errors in two straight games on plays where he had a chance to end an inning with no scores."

Martinez conceded through an interpreter in Milwaukee that he musdo better on defense.

"I feel bad because these are routine plays that I can obviously make," said Martinez, who is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in seven appearances (four starts) vs. the Padres. "The fact that it happened in two straight games is a little frustrating."