Jones’ two-run homer in the sixth inning was the difference in the Cubs’ 2-1 victory over the Cardinals in Friday’s series opener between clubs in the mix along with the Milwaukee Brewers for the division lead.
With the victory, Chicago (62-59) - which announced Friday that staff ace Carlos Zambrano agreed to a five-year, $91.5 million contract extension - moved three games ahead of the third-place Cardinals (58-61), who are 3-6 against their division rivals in 2007.
The Cubs will try for a third straight win Saturday after losing four in a row. Friday’s win was just their sixth in 16 games this month.
St. Louis, meanwhile, had its five-game winning streak snapped. The Cardinals, though, have won eight of their last 11 to close the gap on Milwaukee and Chicago and make this weekend’s series at Wrigley more meaningful than when they were eight games out of first place on Aug. 5.
“To us this game is almost like the postseason,” said Albert Pujols, who hit his 26th homer Friday for St. Louis’ only run. “We’re both real close in the race. That’s how I feel every time we play here.”
After going 4-for-5 in a 12-4 win over Cincinnati on Thursday, Jones—who nearly was traded in late June—has driven in seven runs in his last four games and is hitting .487 (19-for-39) with three homers and 13 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak.
Jones, who was batting .227 on July 2 and was seeing limited action, is batting .361 in 32 games since then to raise his average to .276.
“As bad as I was in the first half, I figured I didn’t have anything to lose going into the second half,” said Jones, who is batting .444 (12-for-27) with 10 RBIs in eight games against St. Louis this season . “Just go out and play and enjoy the game, relax and see what happens.”
Ryan Theriot went 2-for-4 for the Cubs on Friday and is 7-for-14 with four RBIs in his last three contests.
Marshall allowed three runs and six hits in five innings, but didn’t factor in Chicago’s 6-3 loss at Colorado on Sunday. The left-hander is 0-2 with a 10.38 ERA in his last three starts. In two starts against St. Louis last year, Marshall had no record and a 5.06 ERA.
Pujols had two of the Cardinals’ four hits on Friday. St. Louis cooled off after scoring 46 runs and belting out 68 hits during their recent winning streak.
Pujols, who is batting .455 (10-for-22) in his last five games, has four homers in 37 at-bats against the Cubs this season and 16 in 55 games at Wrigley. He is 1-for-4 in his career against Marshall.
Though Braden Looper took the loss Friday, St. Louis’ starting pitchers are 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA in their last six games, but still remain near the bottom of the majors among starting staffs with a 5.09 ERA.
Anthony Reyes (2-11, 5.48) will try to record consecutive wins for the first time in just over a year when for St. Louis. He allowed two runs and seven hits in six innings of a 12-2 home win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday to improve to 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in four starts since being recalled from Triple-A Memphis on July 28.
“I’ve been going out there thinking I’ve got nothing to lose,” said Reyes, who last won consecutive starts Aug. 5-10, 2006. “I’ll just try to keep that going.”
Reyes, though, is 0-4 with a 5.40 ERA in four games - three starts - against Chicago and 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA in 2007.