The St. Louis Cardinals start the final three weeks of the regular season in control of the National League Central, but playing with heavy hearts.
The Cardinals entered Monday's action with a 4 1/2-game lead on the Chicago Cubs, and head to Denver to play the slumping Colorado Rockies for a three-game series beginning Tuesday. St. Louis has won two in a row while mourning the loss of one of its former players, Chris Duncan, who died on Friday after a long battle with cancer.
Duncan was a rookie on the 2006 Cardinals team that won the World Series and had become a successful sports talk show host in St. Louis.
"This guy was infectious, man," former teammate Mark DeRosa said Monday morning on MLB Central. "This was a special human being. He just lit up a room. In 2009, he always had a smile on his face. He always had the right thing to say to the guys. He was all about team unity, and he's going to be missed. Just a good guy, man. Put the team above himself. Every day."
Duncan's passing will be with the Cardinals the rest of the season as they try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2015. They face a Colorado team that has gone 20-50 since June 21 and is coming off a 1-5 road trip. St. Louis swept a four-game home series against the Rockies in late August.
Colorado has utilized a taxi squad of starting pitchers, since the entire Opening Day rotation is on the injured list. One of those replacements, right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez, will get the start Tuesday night, facing Michael Wacha.
Gonzalez (0-6, 7.29 ERA) made his only career start against the Cardinals on Aug. 24, a 6-0 win by St. Louis. He allowed five runs on three hits over 4 1/3 innings and took the loss.
He lasted just two-thirds of an inning in his next start but then took a shutout into the seventh against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 3 -- his most recent start, and his best since joining the rotation in mid-July. At times, he has been plagued by walks, including the six he issued in the loss to St. Louis.
Walks have actually been an issue for most of the Colorado staff. The bullpen walked two in the 10th inning -- part of seven total walks issued by the Rockies -- in a 2-1 loss in San Diego on Sunday.
Wacha (6-6, 4.98) will face the Rockies for the second time this season. He allowed three runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings on Aug. 25, receiving a no-decision in an 11-4 Cardinals win. In six career appearances -- five starts -- against Colorado, Wacha is 1-1 with a 5.28 ERA.
The Cardinals have gotten steady performances from their rotation while the Rockies' struggling staff has posted a 5.97 ERA this year, which ranks last in the majors. The poor starts have led to long innings and a ripple effect on the overworked bullpen.
"It's been tough, for sure," manager Bud Black told The Denver Post. "It's hard on the position players, but they keep fighting. It's hard on the bullpen. Physically, it's demanding. Our starting pitching has not been what it needs to be. It makes it really tough to win a ballgame."
--Field Level Media