The Cardinals (10-13) were shaky on defense, at the plate, and on the mound during Saturday's game against Chicago (10-13). Chris Duncan failed to make two tough plays in left field that turned out to be doubles for the Cubs. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright yielded only four baserunners through the first four innings, but the fifth inning proved to be the frame that determined the outcome of the game.
Wainwright allowed a lead off double to outfielder Jacque Jones to start off the inning, but catcher Henry Blanco hit another double to give the Cubs the first lead of the game, 1-0. Zambrano sacrificed Blanco to third base, left fielder Alfonso Soriano walked, and shortstop Ryan Theriot singled in the second run. First baseman Derrek Lee followed up with a double that brought home Soriano. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez was intentionally walked, and Adam Wainwright was removed from the game.
Tyler Johnson entered and got right fielder Cliff Floyd to ground out, scoring Theriot. Second baseman Mark DeRosa's single loaded the bases. Jones came up for the second time in the inning and hit a triple to center field that unloaded the bases. The Cardinals were down 7-0 after a six-hit Cubs offensive explosion in the fifth inning.
With a seemingly insurmountable lead on his side, Zambrano could basically put it on cruise control for the rest of the game. The Cubs would add one more run in the seventh on Jones' fourth RBI of the day, a base hit that brought home Lee. Zambrano continued to pitch well until he made one mistake, a mistake that landed somewhere in the left field seats off the bat of Albert Pujols. It was Pujols' six home run of the year. He is on pace to hit 42 home runs, despite struggling early on at the plate.
The Cubs' bullpen would ultimately stop the Cardinals' offense for the rest of the game after Zambrano left after the seventh inning.
- Chris Duncan has looked below average in left field the last few games, but on one of his defensive plays he did have a bit of a distraction - the young left fielder crashed into the bullpen door just as he was about to try and make the catch, and the ball bounced just inside the door of the bullpen. It was an embarrassing play all around - Cubs' left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who hit the ball, was doing his home run trot around first base when he realized it had stayed in the ballpark. He could have made it to third at best but had to settle for second base.
- Albert Pujols is looking better every day, and while he has not been getting as many hits as he would like, a lot of times he comes to the plate, he hits the ball extremely hard. He had a line drive early in the game that got to center fielder Jacque Jones in about three seconds. Pujols' home run off Zambrano was a good sign, as well. He is also looking more selective at the plate. Pujols struck out once, but it was not a swinging strikeout. Any time Pujols takes a pitch that is close, it is a better sign than the star first baseman chasing something way high, low, or outside.
- Tyler Johnson gave up his first run of the year on Sunday, increasing his ERA to only 1.00. He has been impressive. That one triple he gave up (one of those runs went against him) was a deep fly ball that could have been an out had Edmonds been positioned a little deeper in the outfield. Josh Hancock pitched three innings and gave up only one run on two hits in his best outing of the year. He lowered his ERA to a much better 3.55 from the rough 5.40 it rested at after his last appearance. Brad Thompson pitched one scoreless inning in the loss.
- The Cardinals need to avoid getting swept Sunday night. Tony La Russa's clash with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday may have provided something of a distraction to the team on Saturday, and the article written by the Post-Dispatch may have also inspired some of the Cubs' players, including Derrek Lee, who is said to be upset after reading it. The last thing a struggling team needs is controversy.
Tony La Russa discusses the loss. (Adam Wainwright did not appear for his customary post-game interview – at least not in a normal time window.)
Brady Holzhauer can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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