The slumping St. Louis Cardinals are no longer alone in first place in the NL Central.
The Cardinals try to avoid falling out of first place for the first time in more than two months when they open a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on Friday.
St. Louis (66-60) was swept in a three-game series this week by the New York Mets, including a 6-2 loss Thursday. The Cardinals have been swept in four of their last eight series, including a four-game sweep to the Cubs (54-73) from July 27-30.
After leading Cincinnati by 5 1/2 games in the division on July 26, St. Louis has lost 18 of its last 26 games and is now tied for first place with the Reds. The Cardinals have not been in second place in the division since June 8.
“I had planned to say something to them about the final push,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. “This is the time I chose to say it.
“The way I look at it, optimistically or otherwise, is we are in contention. It hasn’t been the most consistent we’ve been in recent years, but we are in contention and I’m excited about it.”
The Cardinals took two of three from the Cubs last weekend to win their first series over Chicago since April 21-23. St. Louis is just 5-11 against the Cubs this season, but has split its six games with them at Busch Stadium.
Albert Pujols went 5-for-13 (.385) with two homers and nine RBIs in the Mets series, but is batting just .214 (12-for-56) with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 15 games against Chicago this season.
Jeff Suppan (9-7, 5.03 ERA) tries to end St. Louis’ three-game losing skid when he takes the mound Friday. Suppan is 1-2 with a 5.32 ERA in four starts this month, and is coming off one of his shortest outings of the season.
The right-hander allowed three runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings of St. Louis’ 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Cubs on Saturday.
“I felt strong with my fastball,” Suppan said. “We used it a lot. But my offspeed was struggling a little bit, I thought. I was pitching with it, trying to make pitches. I wasn’t hitting the spot where I wanted to.”
Suppan is 3-4 with a 3.56 ERA in 12 career games against Chicago, but 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in two appearances against them this year.
The Cubs hit four home runs in Thursday’s 11-2 victory over Philadelphia, snapping their four-game losing streak. Aramis Ramirez was a double short of the cycle, and is 30-for-89 (.337) with seven homers, eight doubles and 18 RBIs in 22 games in August.
Michael Barrett hit a two-run homer on Thursday, and is batting .447 (21-for-47) with five home runs and 13 RBIs in 14 games against the Cardinals this season.
Rookie Juan Mateo (1-1, 3.79 ERA) makes his first start since taking the loss in a 5-3 defeat to St. Louis last Sunday.
Mateo had a rough first inning against the Cardinals, allowing four runs and three hits—including two homers—before settling down. He pitched six scoreless innings after the first, but the damage was already done.
The 23-year-old right-hander allowed four runs and seven hits while striking out five in a career-high seven innings.
“He pitched great outside of that first inning,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “He showed a lot of poise for a young man, especially when you get behind like that.”