After finishing last season with their first losing record since 1999, the St. Louis Cardinals are eager to prove that won’t be repeated this year.
Judging by their first 30 games, they are well on their way to accomplishing that.
The NL Central-leading Cardinals (19-11) continue a three-game series with the rival Chicago Cubs (17-12) at Busch Stadium on Saturday.
St. Louis opened this series with an 11-inning, 5-3 win on Friday. Skip Schumaker hit a walkoff, two-run homer to send the Cardinals to their third straight win and fifth in the last six games. He has the go-ahead hit in three of the team’s last seven victories.
“That was the best time for me in the big leagues by far,” Schumaker said. “I thought the walkoff a couple of days ago was a good feeling but this is incredible. I’m at a loss for words.”
Friday was the first meeting between the division rivals this season. Last year, St. Louis was just 5-11 against the Cubs, including 2-7 at home. The Cardinals, who finished last year 78-84, have lost the season series each of the last three years.
With Friday’s win, St. Louis improved to 13-6 at home. The series finale on Sunday marks the end of a nine-game homestand for St. Louis, which then begins an eight-game road trip at Colorado.
The Cubs’ loss was their fourth in the last five games and sixth in the last eight. They have yet to lose more than two consecutive games this season.
Alfonso Soriano tied the game at 3 in the ninth on Friday with a two-run homer off Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen. The Cubs put two runners on in the 11th, but Mike Fontenot grounded out to end the inning.
Fontenot came in as a replacement for Aramis Ramirez in the seventh after Ramirez was hit on the left wrist by a pitch in the sixth. He needed medical attention before running to first and his status for Saturday is uncertain.
“It’s all right,” Ramirez said. “Ice and pain killers and see how it feels. It’s pretty swollen right now.”
The Cubs were forced to use six relievers Friday after Rich Hill failed to make it out of the first. Hill loaded the bases and walked in a run before being pulled. Chad Fox, making his first appearance since April 2005, was charged with the loss.
After exhausting their bullpen on Friday, the Cubs look to Ted Lilly (1-4, 6.46 ERA) to give them an extended outing Saturday.
Lilly pitched well in his last start on Sunday, but took the loss in a 2-0 defeat to Washington. Lilly allowed two runs and four hits in six innings, striking out a season-high seven.
The left-hander is 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA in six career starts against the Cardinals, including 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two games in St. Louis.
The Cardinals counter with Kyle Lohse (3-0, 2.36), who has won his last seven decisions dating back to July 25.
Lohse allowed one run and four hits in six innings of a 5-1 win over Houston on Sunday. The right-hander did not receive a decision in his previous two starts - both St. Louis losses.
Lohse, who is 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA in four home starts, is 1-1 with a 3.93 ERA in four career outings against the Cubs.