They even pushed back the dominating right-hander’s scheduled start back a day so he could pitch the opener of an important three-game series with the rival St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.
Prior has been brilliant in five starts since coming off a stint on the 15-day disabled list due to a bruised shoulder on Aug. 4. He’s gone 5-0 with two complete games and an 0.69 ERA—just three earned runs in 39 innings— lowering his overall ERA to 2.47.
“I’m not trying to go out and strike out 10 guys, I’m not trying to put up a shutout every time,” Prior said. “My job is to keep them from scoring as many runs as we do, and that’s the bottom line.”
In Tuesday’s 7-4 victory over St. Louis, Prior yielded just one run and three hits over eight innings, striking out six and walking one.
The Cubs have lost four of five to the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers, including Sunday’s 2-0 setback, to fall 2 1/2 games behind NL Central-leading St. Louis and 3 1/2 back in the NL wild-card race.
Yet, manager Dusty Baker remains undaunted.
“We were playing a hot club, and they did everything right,” Baker said. “We know our hot time is going to come.”
Baker opted not to start Prior in the series finale, instead opting to have him ready for St. Louis.
The Cardinals have won four of five, capped with Sunday’s 5-0 victory over Cincinnati, to move into the top spot in the division.
Albert Pujols homered twice and tied a career high with five RBIs as Sterling Hitchcock threw six shutout innings in his first start for St. Louis since being acquired from the New York Yankees on Aug. 22.
Pujols has 37 homers this season, and 108 for his career to move past Joe DiMaggio for third place on the list for most homers in a player’s first three years.
“I’m not thinking about that now,” Pujols said. “After the season’s over, I’ll look back at it, but September’s going to be a tough month.
“I need to finish strong. We need to finish strong.”
STANDINGS: Cardinals - 1st place, NL Central. Cubs - 3rd place, 2 1/2 GB, NL Central.
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTER: Woody Williams (14-6, 3.44 ERA). Williams is 0-3 over his last six starts. However, he has allowed a combined two runs over his last two outings, including the Cardinals’ 4-2 win over the Cubs on Wednesday. The veteran right-hander yielded one run and five hits over seven innings, striking out six and walking one. Williams is 2-3 with a 3.28 ERA in eight career starts against Chicago.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTER: Prior (13-5, 2.47 ERA). Prior is 1-2 with a 2.63 ERA in four career starts against the Cardinals.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Cardinals - Pujols, . 368 avg., 37 HRs, 114 RBIs and 117 runs; Edgar Renteria, 27 SBs. Cubs - Mark Grudzielanek, .305 avg.; Sammy Sosa, 31 HRs and 86 RBIs; Kenny Lofton, 81 runs and 28 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Cardinals, 8-4.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cardinals - OF-1B Pujols is 6-for-11 against RHP Prior this season with three homers and three RBIs. … The Cardinals have won four consecutive series since being swept in a three-game set at Philadelphia from Aug. 15-17. … With 81 RBIs, SS Renteria is just one RBI shy of tying his own club record for RBIs in a season by a shortstop. Cubs - OF Doug Glanville is hitting .444 in 18 career at-bats against RHP Williams with one double, one triple, a homer and four RBIs. … 2B Ramon Martinez had three hits Sunday and is batting .338 (27-for-80) over his last 23 games. … The Cubs have gone 31-26 in games decided by two or fewer runs—including a 13-5 mark in one-run games at Wrigley Field.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cardinals - 32-36 on the road; Cubs - 33-34 at home.
INJURIES: Cardinals - C Joe Girardi (back), 15-day DL; C Steve Torrealba (elbow), 15-day DL; OF J.D. Drew (oblique), 15-day DL; OF Eli Marrero (ankle), 15-day DL; RHP Jimmy Journell (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Lance Painter (calf), 15-day DL; RHP Kiko Calero (knee), 60-day DL; RHP Chris Carpenter (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Gene Stechschulte (shoulder), 60-day DL. Cubs - 2B Grudzielanek (hand), 15-day DL; RHP Dave Veres (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Scott Chiasson (elbow), 60-day DL; LHP Will Ohman (elbow), 60-day DL; OF Corey Patterson (knee), 60-day DL.