Coming off an emphatic sweep that vaulted them into first place in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are playing with a profound swagger.
That doesn’t bode well for the sputtering Chicago Cubs.
Minus manager Tony La Russa, the surging Cardinals look to win their fourth in a row Friday night against the Cubs in the first meeting of the season between these clubs at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis (64-49) began a three-game series at Cincinnati on Monday two games back of the first-place Reds, but left with a one-game lead after outscoring them 21-8. Colby Rasmus(notes) hit his first career grand slam in Wednesday’s 6-1 win, and Matt Holliday(notes) finished the series 7 for 11 with four RBIs.
“If we play like this from here to the end, we’ve got a heck of a chance,” La Russa told the Cardinals’ official website. “This is a very solid series in just about every department.”
The series was made even more compelling by comments from Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips(notes), who said he hates the Cardinals. Those remarks spurred a bench-clearing brawl in the first inning Tuesday.
La Russa has been fined an undisclosed amount of money and suspended for the first two games of this series for his role in that skirmish.
By responding to Phillips’ comments with a convincing sweep, St. Louis made a strong statement to the Reds that the defending NL Central champion won’t go down lightly.
After allowing two runs and four hits with seven strikeouts in six innings without a decision in a 9-4 loss to Houston in his St. Louis debut Aug. 2, Westbrook gave up three runs while striking out a season-best nine in seven innings in Saturday’s 5-4, 10-inning loss to Florida.
The impressive strikeout totals are surprising for Westbrook, who averaged 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings while pitching for Cleveland. He has doubled that average with the Cardinals (11.1).
“I can’t explain (the strikeouts),” the right-hander said. “Probably, for a lot of these guys, it’s the first time facing me.”
This will be Westbrook’s first career appearance against the Cubs (48-67), and he hopes to take advantage of a Chicago team that is sixth in the majors with 865 strikeouts. The Cubs have averaged 9.1 strikeouts per game during their current 2-13 slump.
These teams have split their first six meetings, but the Cardinals should have better luck with a series in St. Louis. They went 7-2 at home against Chicago last season and are 12-3 at Busch Stadium since July 4.
Chicago arrives in St. Louis following Thursday’s 8-7 loss in San Francisco. The Cubs dropped three of four in that series, with each loss coming by one run. Chicago is 13-29 in one-run games this season, the most such losses in the majors.
Diamond lasted just three innings in Sunday’s 11-4 loss to Cincinnati, allowing five runs and four hits. The right-hander had one strikeout after getting 10 against Milwaukee on Aug. 3 to tie Mark Prior(notes) for the most by a Cubs pitcher in his debut since 1920.