Mark Reynolds

The Orioles' Mark Reynolds tosses his helmet after striking out against Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter in the fourth inning. Carpenter pitched a complete game, allowing one run on seven hits and a walk. (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox / June 29, 2011)

It has become a trend that these Orioles appear powerless to break: the starter puts the team in an early hole, the bullpen is called on far earlier than should be necessary and the offense squanders numerous opportunities to get back in the game.

The names and circumstances change on a nightly basis, but the results certainly do not.

The Orioles, who got a short and ineffective outing from Chris Jakubauskas and another punchless performance by the offense, are a season-high seven games under .500 after a 5-1 to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night before an announced 17,405 at Camden Yards.

"That's the frustrating part. Seems like we get down early, and then all of a sudden the [at-bats] aren't quite there to get us back in the game," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "So it's tough. We need to jump on somebody early and be able to hold the lead."

Given a 4-0 lead by the third inning, 2005 National League Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter pitched a complete game, scattering seven hits, one walk and one error while throwing 132 pitches. Nick Markakis drove home the Orioles' only run with an RBI double in the third inning, extending his hitting streak to a career-high 18 games.

But Markakis, along with Adam Jones and Vladimir Guerrero -- the team's Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters -- failed to drive in runs in the crucial fifth inning after the Orioles had the bases loaded and no outs and trailed by four runs. Markakis hit a slow tapper to Carpenter, who got the out at home, Jones flied out to shallow left field and Guerrero flied out to deep right.

That started a stretch in which Carpenter retired 15 of the final 17 hitters he faced. He struck out Blake Davis looking for the game's final out.

The Orioles went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runners. In the first two games of the series, the Orioles are 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position and have stranded 15. Over their past seven games, the Orioles are 9-for-61 (.148) with men in scoring position.

"I [went] over right after the game. I watched me, [Markakis'] and Guerrero's at-bats. That [guy] Carpenter is tough, but you've got to get the runners in," Jones said. "We had the momentum. We had a chance. We just didn't get it done, point blank. He made good pitches, but we had some pitches to hit. It doesn't really matter what happened, what he did. We've got to get the runs in."

Said Orioles manager Buck Showalter: "Just three runs in two nights. Obviously, that's not going to get it done for us against good pitching."

The Orioles (35-42) will attempt to avoid the three-game sweep Thursday behind struggling left-hander Brian Matusz. After Jakubaskas' five-inning outing Wednesday, the Orioles have gone five straight games without getting a starter through six innings.

They've gone 16 straight without having a starter pitch seven, a trend that motivated the club to designate left-handed specialist Clay Rapada for assignment, and activate Alfredo Simon from the disabled list. The Orioles have three long men -- Simon, Jason Berken and Brad Bergesen -- in their bullpen.

Bergesen pitched three scoreless innings Wednesday, retiring all nine hitters he faced in relief of Jakubauskas. But Bergesen's three clean innings were about the Orioles' only highlight of the night.

In falling to 2-1 with a 5.68 ERA, Jakubauskas allowed five earned runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out two. Much of the attention entering the night was on his rematch with Lance Berkman, a pairing that produced one of the scariest moments in baseball last season.

On April 24, Berkman, then a member of the Houston Astros, hit a searing line drive that struck Jakubauskas, who was pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time, in the back of his right ear. The ball hit Jakubauskas with such force that it ricocheted all the way behind the catcher.

Berkman visited Jakubauskas, who was diagnosed with a concussion, at the hospital that night, and the two watched a replay of the at-bat. They spent the previous two days fielding questions about the incident. Their three matchups tonight were rather anticlimactic -- Berkman hit a sacrifice fly and drew two walks.

"It really wasn't on the forefront of my mind," Jakubauskas said. "It was more that he was another guy, but it did feel really good to get out there and get it over with."

Two batters after Jakubauskas walked Berkman on a nine-pitch at-bat in the second inning, Colby Rasmus crushed his second home run in as many nights. Jakubauskas allowed the first five hitters he faced in the third inning to either reach base or drive in a run.

Skip Schumaker had an RBI single, and Berkman hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0. David Freese added an RBI single in the fifth, Jakubauskas' final inning. He has failed to pitch six innings in all five of his starts.

"I put us in a hole again, again with the five innings, and at some point, that's got to stop," Jakubauskas said. "And that's on me. You can't go out and battle every start like I have been doing. One of these times, it's got to be going smooth. It can't be smooth, battle, battle, battle. It's got to be more smooth than battle."

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