On Monday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs will try to move back atop the NL Central standings while further denying their most bitter rivals a chance to defend their World Series championship.
The Cubs meet the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field in the makeup of a game postponed Aug. 19, and the first of five remaining meetings this season. The teams close out their regular-season series with a four-game set starting Friday night in St. Louis, including a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.
Chicago (72-70) was knocked out of first place in the Central on Sunday with a 10-5 loss to lowly Pittsburgh, which is two losses away from its 15th straight losing season. But Cubs manager Lou Piniella didn’t seem concerned about falling one game behind Milwaukee, which beat Cincinnati earlier in the day to take over the division lead.
“Look, this loss here isn’t life or death,” Piniella said. “We’re behind, I understand. One game in the standings? If we play well enough, we’ll have a chance to get back on top. If we don’t, it’s not going to matter.
“Let’s not get too down about this loss. You’ve still got 20 games to do something.”
After this contest, the Cubs travel to Houston for three games before their showdown in St. Louis.
“We’ve been playing .500 roughly for a month, or a little below. Sooner or later we’ve got to do a little better than that,” said Piniella, whose team is 32-30 against divisional foes.
Ted Lilly (14-7, 3.85 ERA) gets the start for Chicago, and will try to match a career high for wins set last year while with Toronto. The left-hander earned his first victory in five starts his last time out, limiting the Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs and six hits over 6 1-3 innings en route to an 8-2 win.
Lilly also improved to 8-1 in 15 starts following a Chicago loss.
“It’s been nice to be able to do that. Unfortunately I’d rather not come in after a loss, but that’s been the case a few times,” he said after getting his first win since Aug. 9.
Lilly is 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts against the Cardinals this season, but both losses have come at home, where he’s allowed seven runs and 11 hits in 13 innings. The Cubs, though, have won each of Lilly’s last two home starts to improve to 9-8 at Wrigley when he takes the hill.
After being swept in a three-game series by NL West-leading Arizona, the Cardinals (69-71) start play two games behind Chicago and three in back of Milwaukee. St. Louis, though, has two games in hand on the Cubs and Brewers.
The Cardinals had the bases loaded and two out in the ninth on Sunday, but couldn’t push across the tying run in a 6-5 loss to the Diamondbacks. St. Louis starting pitchers Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper and Brad Thompson combined for a 7.94 ERA in the series.
“Bad results, but if we go about it that way we’ll be fine,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, whose club has lost four of five but is 36-26 against the Central. “I’ve got no complaints about the way we went at it all three days.”
Joel Pineiro (4-2, 3.63) has turned into one of St. Louis’ most effective starting pitchers since being acquired at the end of July from Boston. On Tuesday, the right-hander picked up his first win in three starts as he gave up two runs and eight hits in five innings of a 6-2 win over Pittsburgh.
“He’s got good stuff,” St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan said. “As soon as he believes in it as much as I do he’ll be a better pitcher. He still thinks he has to do more to be a good pitcher and when he realizes that, he’s not going to be in the fifth inning with 90-some pitches.”
The right-hander beat the Cubs at Wrigley on Aug. 20, and is 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA lifetime versus Chicago.