Last-place St. Louis Cardinals trying to find their way

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CHICAGO (AP) — When Dylan Carlson looks at his St. Louis teammates, he sees a long list of accomplishments. There is reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt and seven-time All-Star Nolan Arenado. And Adam Wainwright, a World Series winner closing in on 200 career victories.

All that past success is one reason why the team's lackluster start has been so frustrating for the Cardinals. It's also why they remain hopeful for the rest of the year.

“That helps. That kind of eliminates some of that panic, that worry,” Carlson said, “having guys who've experienced winning at the highest level.”

They just aren't experiencing much winning at the moment, and rare moments of dysfunction seem to be leaking into the franchise's foundational “Cardinal Way.” After taking two of three at the Chicago Cubs this week, St. Louis remained in last place in the NL Central with a 13-25 record.

It's the worst 38-game start for the club since it was 13-25 in 1925, according to Sportradar. The Cardinals haven't finished with a losing record since they were 78-84 in 2007, and the franchise had just two losing seasons in the previous 25 years.

The last time a big league team made the playoffs after it was 14 or more games under .500 — St. Louis was 10-24 after a 6-5 loss to Detroit last weekend — at any point in the season was the 2005 Houston Astros.

“We definitely have high expectations inside and outside this clubhouse, and we expect to play well and we expect to win," Goldschmidt said. "We haven’t done a good enough job of that to start the year, and we’re doing everything we can to (play) well starting every day and take that and carry it to the next day as much as we can.”

The losing and disorder are a departure for a franchise that typically sails along with very little of the choppy water it has publicly navigated already.

Manager Oliver Marmol questioned Tyler O'Neill's effort after he was thrown out at home during a 4-1 loss to Atlanta on April 4, and O’Neill disagreed with the criticism. Jordan Walker, one of baseball's top prospects, made the team out of spring training and batted .274 in 20 games before he was optioned to Triple-A Memphis, with Marmol citing a desire to help the rest of the team's outfielders get into a rhythm.

Looking to replace Yadier Molina at catcher, St. Louis signed three-time All-Star Willson Contreras to an $87.5 million, five-year contract in December in its biggest move of the offseason. But Marmol announced last weekend that Contreras would be taking a break from catching for a while — a move that raised questions about the fit of the free agent acquisition in the first place.

The departure of Molina, a nine-time Gold Glove winner who retired after his 19th season with the Cardinals, looms over the team's losing record, but Wainwright downplayed the significance of his absence.

“We don't have anyone to blame for this skid except (ourselves)," said Wainwright, who missed the start of the season with a groin injury. “Would Yadi help? Always. Yadi's going to make everyone better. But he's not the reason we were 14 games under .500.”

Wainwright's return could help a rotation that has just six wins and a 5.40 ERA. St. Louis hasn't had a starting pitcher go beyond 5 1/3 innings in a week. Jack Flaherty is 1-3 with a 9.00 ERA in his last five starts, and he bristled when asked about his sporadic velocity following a no-decision against the Cubs on Tuesday night.

The reigning NL Central champions also have been hurt by a tough start for Arenado, who is batting a career-low .233 with 33 strikeouts in 36 games going into this weekend's series at Boston. The third baseman hit .293 with 30 homers and 103 RBIs last year.

“I just think we haven't put it all together yet,” Carlson said. “It's kind of one of those things right now where we just haven't played a complete game, and just meshed yet, I guess. We haven't hit that stride.”

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AP freelance reporter Scott Held contributed to this report.

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Follow Jay Cohen at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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