MILWAUKEE – The Cardinals had a chance. All they had to do was sweep the Brewers and they would have gone into the All Star break in sole possession of first place in the National League Central. But, after taking the first two games of the three-game series to pull into a tie for first place, St. Louis dropped the series final 11-2 Sunday afternoon at Miller Park, heading into the break one game behind the first place Brewers.

“We played two great games,” Cardinals’ skipper Mike Matheny said. “Those are big, big wins that do take some life out of you. It takes a lot of energy, especially that first game. This is perfect timing for this break. These guys have competed, they have worked. We asked them to grind and that is exactly what they have been doing. You are going to have days like this, you have to let them go and we have to fix it next time and anticipate we are going to see a well-rested and ready group when we get back from this break.”

While part of the blame for the loss can go to the offense, or the lack thereof, starting pitcher Carlos Martinez did not have his “A” game Sundayand quickly put the Redbirds in a hole.

“When you are all over the place, you are not going to get a lot of calls,” Matheny said of his starting pitcher. “And when you are not hitting spots, you can’t expect the occasional one that hits the plate to work in your favor.”

The Cardinals’ starting pitcher gave up four straight singles to open the game, giving the Brewers a quick 2-0 lead. In the third inning, Martinez threw a lot of pitches. He struck out the first batter then walked the next two. After getting another strike out, Martinez walked his third batter of the inning to load the bases. But, as luck would have it, Martinez struck out Khris Davis to end the inning and the Brewers latest threat.

“I tried to control my emotions,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “It was kind of hard today because I gave up a lot of hits.”

Matheny said it was a tough day and a learning day for his starting pitcher.

“He was actually getting outs,” Matheny said. “He was only running his pitch count through the ceiling because he was having some tough, continuous pitches. … It’s just one of those days you are going to see from a young pitcher every once and a while.”

Martinez wasn’t so lucky in the fourth. A single, sacrifice bunt, hit batsman, and a double by the Brewers gave Milwaukee two more runs, putting the Cards in a 4-1 hole.

“I’m going to keep working hard,” Martinez said via his interpreter. “I am going to keep fighting and play hard and see what happens.”

The Cardinals’ right-hander lasted just four innings. Martinez allowed seven hits and issued three walks while giving up four runs on 69 pitches.

The bullpen wasn’t much help after Martinez was pulled.

Seth Maness took over on the mound first and gave up a two-out home run to Davis in the fifth. Then, in the sixth, he allowed four hits and three more runs before Matheny yanked him in favor of Jason Motte to finish the frame. Nick Greenwood pitched the seventh and eighth. He allowed six total hits, hit a batter, and gave up one run in the seventh and two runs in the inning.

Offensively, the Redbirds just couldn’t get anything going against the Brewers’ Wily Peralta. St. Louis managed just three hits and its only run was scored without the benefit of a hit.

“He was good today,” Matheny said of Peralta.

When St. Louis did finally get on the board, it happened in the top of the fourth. Kolten Wong struck out to open the inning, but the third strike went for a passed ball, allowing Wong to reach first base. On the first pitch to the next batter, Matt Holliday, Wong stole second base. Holliday eventually grounded out, but Wong was able to advance to third on the play. Matt Adams followed suit, also grounding out. But, at the same time, Wong was able to score, briefly cutting the Cardinals’ deficit to 2-1.

The Cardinals’ final run came in the ninth off Brewers’ closer Francisco Rodriguez. With one out, Peter Bourjos walked and moved to third on Matt Adams’ single. Bourjos then scored on George Kottaras’ fielder’s choice. The RBI by Kottaras was his first since joining the Redbirds.

“I like watching guys take good at bats and everybody down the lineup was,” Matheny said. “It is always good for them, as we get out of here, anytime you can get their closer in the game and be able to put some good at bats. That is something you keep in the memory bank for later.”

NOTES: Tony Cruz has a two-game hit streak since replacing and injured Yadier Molina behind the plate three days ago. … Kolten Wong enters the break with a six game hitting streak and a streak of scoring runs in six straight games. … Brewers’ shortstop Elian Herrera had a career-high five hits in the game. … Brewers’ second baseman Scooter Gennett tied his career-high with three hits. … Khris Davis hit his 15th home run of the season for the Brewers. … Milwaukee racked up 19 hits against Cardinals’ pitching.