The St. Louis Cardinals entered the All-Star break on a sour note. Not much went wrong before that.
Owner of the National League’s best record, St. Louis opens the second half with six straight games against its closest challengers in the NL Central— starting with a four-game set against the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cardinals had won eight in a row before closing the first half with Sunday’s 8-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
St. Louis, which had averaged more than 5.5 runs during the win streak, was stifled by Kerry Wood and Chicago’s relievers before scoring three times in the ninth. Reliever Ray King gave up a run for the first time since May 3 and Chris Carpenter, the team’s best starter the last two months, was ripped for six runs in 3 2-3 innings.
“I think we played really hard,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of the season’s first half. “We played really well a lot of times. We deserve and earned three days off.”
Sunday’s defeat cut St. Louis’ lead to seven games over the second-place Cubs, who host a two-game set against the Cardinals next week.
The Reds are third at 7 1/2 games back, but they also had a bad end to their first half with Ken Griffey Jr. landing on the disabled list Sunday due to a torn right hamstring.
“He’ll be re-evaluated on a regular basis,” Reds trainer Mark Mann said. “He told me he heard it pop. At the end of the 15-day period, we’ll have a better idea of a time frame. It’s a muscular tear, so this should heal on its own.”
While Cincinnati will not have its regular center fielder available, the Cardinals go into the second half with theirs going after a franchise record.
Jim Edmonds homered in his final five games before the break, tying the team mark for home runs in consecutive games held by Rip Collins, Jim Bottomley and Mark McGwire. Edmonds is batting .400 (10-for-25) with six homers and nine RBIs in eight games this month.
While Edmonds didn’t make the All-Star team, his teammates that did were among the few contributors offensively for the NL team that lost 9-4. Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Edgar Renteria all started and went a combined 4-for-7 with three doubles—the NL’s only extra-base hits—two runs and three RBIs.
Cincinnati had four players make the All-Star team, but shortstop Barry Larkin was the only one to play and he was 0-for-1. Griffey and first baseman Sean Casey, second in the NL with a .352 average, were both sidelined by injuries and closer Danny Graves, the major league leader with 33 saves, did not enter the game.
Casey, out with a strained calf, was activated from the 15-day disabled list Thursday and will be available for this game.