Series Preview: Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals

The Chicago Cubs (46-38) are chasing the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals (52-32) in the National League Central Division, and this weekend presents a crucial series for the North siders as they travel to St. Louis for a three-game series to wrap up the first half of the season.

After riding high following a sweep of the cross-town rival White Sox, the Cubs' momentum quickly went down hill in their three-game series in Milwaukee, where they were swept earlier this week by the Brewers. The Cub offense scored just two runs in the entire series and the importance of having third baseman Aramis Ramirez in the lineup was shown greatly. Ramirez (strained groin) hopes to be able to play sometime this weekend.

The Cardinals are winners of six straight and are simply dominating the National League right now from top to bottom. They are led by All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen, who is hitting a robust .347 on the year with an eye-popping 80 RBI.

Friday, July 9, 7:10 CT: Greg Maddux (7-6, 4.43 ERA) vs. Jason Marquis (8-4, 4.10 ERA) - WGN

Greg Maddux was simply brilliant in his last start against the White Sox, allowing two earned runs in 5.1 innings. Maddux has been a victim of the long ball 17 times this season and will need another outing similar to last Saturday's in order contain sluggers such as Rolen, Albert Pujols, and Jim Edmonds. Lifetime against the Cardinals, Maddux has won 21 games and posted a 2.58 ERA in 46 career starts. He is just four wins shy of 300.

On May 26, Jason Marquis was 3-4. The talented right-hander has since gone 5-0 and seems to get even better with each start. Derrek Lee has solved Marquis, as the Cubs first baseman is 10-for-23 with three homers against the first-year Cardinal.

Saturday, July 10, 12:15 CT: Matt Clement (7-7, 2.83 ERA) vs. Jeff Suppan (7-5, 3.35 ERA) - FOX

Matt Clement has to be extremely frustrated with the lack of run support that has become par for the course lately. In his last five starts, Clement has allowed a total of just six runs, yet does not have a single win to show for it. On a sour note, he has allowed 11 walks in his last two starts. Clement was perfect against the Cardinals this year until June 24 in a 4-0 shutout at Busch Stadium. He has posted a 2.48 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals. Of his seven wins this season, only has has come on the road.

Jeff Suppan, the ERA leader in the Cardinals' starting rotation, has posted a 4.15 ERA in two starts versus the Cubs this season. Suppan has not lost in his last five starts and is coming off a performance in St. Louis in which he allowed only one run in 7.1 innings, including a season-high seven strikeouts.

Sunday, July 11, 7:05 CT: Kerry Wood (3-3, 2.82 ERA) vs. Chris Carpenter (9-3, 3.50 ERA) - ESPN

All eyes will be on Kerry Wood if indeed he makes his much-anticipated first start since May 11. If not, left-hander Glendon Rusch will likely Wood once again. The 27-year-old right-hander pitched at Busch Stadium back on April 30 and took a no-decision. allowing two earned runs in eight innings and striking out 10.

Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter has handled the Cubs with ease to date in 2004. He is 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA in three starts against the Cubs this year.

Injuries

CHC: 3B Aramis Ramirez (groin; day-to-day), RHP Kerry Wood (Triceps), LHP Mike Remlinger (Shoulder; 15-day DL), SS Alex Gonzalez (Wrist; 60-day DL), OF Todd Hollandsworth (Shin; 15-day DL), RHP Todd Wellemeyer (Shoulder; 15-day), RHP Ryan Dempster (Elbow; 15-day DL). RHP Joe Borowski (Shoulder; 15-day DL).

STL: OF Ray Lankford (Hamstring; day-to-day), RHP Mike Lincoln (Elbow; 15-day DL).

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