Inside The Ivy: Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Only half way through July, the Cubs are already going to finish off their season series with their biggest rival and National League Central leading, St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs are currently eight games behind the surging Cardinals. They will not be able to take matters into their own hands since they will not play each other again after Tuesday. Therefore, the Cubs need to take care of business and win both games in a shortened affair beginning tonight at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs should have their true starting lineup on the field for the first time all season. Aramis Ramirez returned from a groin injury to start at third base yesterday against the Milwaukee Brewer. The position next to him on the left side of the infield at shortstop has been the Cubs weakest position this season. Hopefully, it will get a boost with the return of a very dependable glove and clutch bat in Alex Gonzalez (.244 BA, 3 HR, 7 RBI). Gonzalez has been out since May 5th with a broken wrist.

The Cubs still have hopes of winning the division, but this series is crucial in their quest. If they can take both games and be within 6 games, they are right back in the hunt. On the other hand, a St. Louis sweep would move the Cubs to 10 games back and shift the Cubs' focus to the wildcard.

Carlos Zambrano (9-4, 2.61 ERA) vs. Chris Carpenter (9-4, 3.87 ERA).
7:05 PM CT. TV: Fox Sports Chicago, ESPN.

Zambrano is 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA in two starts against the Red birds in 2004. Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria is 9-for-18 lifetime against Zambrano. Carpenter was 3-0 against the Cubs this season before the Cubs finally defeated him on July 11th at Busch Stadium. The Cubs got nine hits and six runs off the Cardinals ace in just 3.2 innings. Although he is 3-1 against the Cubs in 2004, they have 33 hits in 26 innings against him, which amounts to a .303 batting average.

Mark Prior (2-2, 4.06 ERA) or Glendon Rusch (5-1, 3.77 ERA) vs. Matt Morris (10-6, 4.20 ERA).
1:20 PM CT. TV: WGN.

The Cubs likely will not know who starts this game until Prior throws in the bullpen before game one. If he throws and feels no discomfort in his elbow, Prior will pitch on Tuesday. Prior, of course, left his last after 1.2 innings with elbow discomfort. He faced the Cardinals on June 9th at Wrigley Field and gave up five runs in just 3.2 innings. If Glendon Rusch has to do another fill in job, it will be his fifth appearance, and fourth start, against the Cards this year. Rusch sports 1-1 record with a 5.31 ERA versus the Cardinals in 2004. Matt Morris is 1-1 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts versus the Cubs this season. Morris does have 10 wins and a respectable ERA of 4.20, but his stuff simply has not looked as sharp as in the past. The velocity on his fastball is down 3-5 mph and his curveball has been inconsistent. Proof of those deficiencies is shown in the whopping 24 home runs he has allowed in 130.2 innings.

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