On Tuesday night, the struggling Cardinals look to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss when they open a three-game set with the rival Cubs at Busch Stadium.
Hours after announcing starting center fielder Rick Ankiel(notes) (shoulder) and 2005 Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter(notes) (strained ribcage muscle) are expected to be activated from the DL on Wednesday, St. Louis (21-17) was swept in a three-game home set by Milwaukee after an 8-4 loss Monday night.
On May 1, the Cardinals held a four-game lead in the NL Central, but a 4-10 slide since has dropped them to third in the division.
“It’s a rough time,” manager Tony La Russa told the Cardinals’ official Web site. “Just got to play your way through it.”
The Cardinals should benefit from having Ankiel - out since May 4 - and Carpenter, who’s scheduled to make his first start since April 14 on Wednesday.
Cardinals pitchers didn’t help matters by combining for 11 walks in the finale, and 23 in the series.
Those control issues could also prove costly against the Cubs (21-15), who are averaging 6.1 runs in winning five of their last six contests, and are finally seeing some production from Derrek Lee(notes).
Batting .226 while dealing with a bulging disc in his neck, Lee went 4 for 5 with a homer and two RBIs in Sunday’s 6-5 loss to Houston.
With Aramis Ramirez(notes) on the disabled list at least another four weeks with a dislocated shoulder, Chicago needs consistency from the 2005 batting champ, who is hitting .217 (5 for 23) with four RBIs against the Cardinals in 2009.
“Milton (Bradley, batting .195) and myself have been in and out of the lineup and haven’t been hitting when we’re in it,” Lee told the Cubs’ official Web site. “We need to get in there on an everyday basis and take a load off those guys.”
Lee has a chance to stay hot with St. Louis’ Joel Pineiro(notes) on the mound. The first baseman is 6 for 10 with three doubles and a homer against the right-hander, who looks to avoid a fourth straight loss.
Pineiro (4-3, 4.17 ERA) allowed five runs and 11 hits in six innings of a 5-3 defeat at Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He is 2-3 with a 5.28 ERA as a starter against the Cubs.
Chicago counters with Ted Lilly(notes) (5-2, 3.27), who looks to win his fourth straight start. He allowed three runs and eight hits while striking out seven without a walk in 6 1-3 innings of a 6-4 victory over San Diego on Wednesday.
“I still feel like my command can improve,” Lilly said. “I have to make sure I’m not leaving the ball out over the middle of the plate.”
Facing St. Louis for the first time in 2009, the left-hander has won his last four decisions against the Cardinals. He is 6-2 with a 2.99 ERA in 11 career starts versus them.
These rivals have split six meetings this season, with St. Louis taking two of three at Busch from April 24-26.