April 21 – Cubs 6, Cardinals 0

On Saturday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs evened their weekend series with the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field behind Jason Marquis. Hal McRae's hitters continued to struggle.

The St. Louis Cardinals (7-10) lost 6-0 to the Chicago Cubs (7-10) at Wrigley Field on Saturday, evening up the weekend series at 1-1. Former Cardinals' pitcher Jason Marquis (2-1 with the Cubs this season) defeated his replacement in the St. Louis rotation, Anthony Reyes (0-3), who picked up his third loss of the season. The Cardinals continued to have problems at the plate with runners in scoring position in the tough loss.

The first inning looked promising when first baseman Albert Pujols was hit by a pitch and third baseman Scott Rolen singled with two outs. Centerfielder Jim Edmonds grounded out with Pujols on second base to end the inning. Unfortunately, the Cubs would find a way to bring their runners home when they came to bat in the bottom of the first.

It started off well for Reyes as he was able to strike out Chicago rookie center fielder Felix Pie. Things fell apart from there, as left fielder Matt Murton and first baseman Derrek Lee had consecutive singles off the St. Louis pitcher. Reyes struck out Aramis Ramirez, but catcher Michael Barrett delivered a message to the Cardinals with a three-run home run.

Right fielder Preston Wilson singled to lead off the second inning and catcher Gary Bennett got a base hit with one out to put two runners on base. Reyes and shortstop David Eckstein both became outs for Marquis and the Cubs to end the threat.

In the bottom of the second, second baseman Mark DeRosa and shortstop Roger Cedeno had back-to-back doubles, and DeRosa was brought on home on Cedeno's two-base hit.

The Cardinals had a big shot to get back in the game in the top of the fourth inning. Wilson, second baseman Adam Kennedy, and Eckstein reached base (two singles and a walk, respectively), but with two outs and the bases loaded, left fielder Chris Duncan struck out swinging.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, pitcher Brad Thompson came in to relieve Reyes, but gave up a solo home run to Cedeno. The Cubs would also score a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, as reserve second baseman Aaron Miles misplayed a ball in shallow centerfield, allowing Murton to score from third. One note is that Murton was only able to advance to third base on pitcher Josh Hancock's wild pitch.

The Cardinals play in the rubber match on Sunday with Adam Wainwright (1-1) facing off against Chicago starter Wade Miller (0-1).

Game Notes:

- The hitting slump for basically the entire Cardinals' team seemingly has become mental. Players appear to be pressing at the plate and trying a little too hard. The team left 11 runners on base, and six of those runners were in scoring position. Hitting coach Hal McRae needs to address this soon. The Cardinals are struggling horribly at the plate, and if the team could just score runs consistently, they have the pitching staff (besides Anthony Reyes) for the most part keeping them in the game.

- Jason Marquis pitched well, but remember, he pitched well with the Cardinals early last season before falling apart after the All-Star break.

-The Cardinals should have the advantage in Sunday's game as Adam Wainwright (1-1, 3.20 ERA, 12 K's) goes up against Wade Miller (0-1, 9.00 ERA, 3 K's).

- Michael Barrett continues to dominate the Cardinals at the plate. For whatever reason, he seems to be a huge thorn in the team's side. Much like Carlos Beltran back when he played for the Astros, Barrett steps up his game against St. Louis. His three-run home run was the game-winning at-bat for Chicago, who did not allow the Cardinals to score a run.

- I figure now is my chance to argue for the Cardinals pitching staff and bullpen. I continue to hear comments about the Cardinals' pitching staff being the biggest weakness for the team, and I do not see how anyone could say this.

Starting off with the bullpen, there is Tyler Johnson and Randy Flores, two pitchers who have yet to give up a run in six and five innings pitched, respectively. The only three pitchers who have really struggled out of the bullpen are Josh Hancock (6.35 ERA), Russ Springer (4.76 ERA), and Brad Thompson (3.86 ERA). Jason Isringhausen owns four saves and a 1.29 ERA. Ryan Franklin has only a 1.13 ERA.

As for the pitching staff, only Anthony Reyes has really struggled. Chris Carpenter had a very bad start against the Mets, but he is now on the Disabled List with elbow injuries serving as the cause of his pitching woes. The rest of the pitching staff has blossomed with former reliever Braden Looper leading the way. Looper is 3-1 with 2.08 ERA and 14 strikeouts.

Adam Wainwright (1-1, 3.20 ERA, 12 strikeouts) is the next best starter, and he does not even have his best stuff on the mound right now. He's trying to get the command back on his off-speed pitches, and once he does, he's a force to be reckoned with as a starter.

The Cardinals' two best starters may be former relievers in the Majors, but Kip Wells has been on the short end of the stick in his four starts, going 1-3. He leads the team with 22 strikeouts though, and has an above-average ERA of 3.12. Opponents are only batting .191 against Wells, showing that a little bit of run support will help him out greatly.

With all this said, it is essential to say that even though the pitching staff is really pitching well right now, it can get better. Staff ace Chris Carpenter will be back eventually and Mark Mulder will probably replace Anthony Reyes after the All-Star break. A rotation of Carpenter, Mulder, Looper, Wainwright, and Wells honestly looks like a dominant force, and with guys like Johnson, Flores, and Isringhausen in the bullpen, it should do well also. It all depends on when the offense comes back around, because when that happens, this team will start winning more ballgames.

Brady Holzhauer can be reached via email at sportswriter5@gmail.com.

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