Game Preview: Cardinals (27-21) @ Cubs (23-25)
UPDATE: Aramis Ramirez, who received a cortisone injection in his aching left hand yesterday, is back in the Cub lineup. Here's the batting order: Fukudome 9, Theriot 4, Lee 3, Ramirez 5, Soriano 7, Byrd 8, Soto 2, Castro 6, Wells 1
It's such a spectacular day in Chicago today, it's easy to imagine I live somewhere else.
As for this afternoon's matchup at Wrigley, if it seems late in the year for the Cardinals and Cubs to be meeting for the first time, that's because it is. Not since 1999 have the clubs gone this deep into the calendar without looking directly into each other's hate-filled eyes.
Our Cubs, winners of 8 of 11, seem to have dodged two injury bullets: Jeff Baker's problem yesterday, which included the loss of vision in his right eye, has been diagnosed as an ocular migraine. According to @CarrieMuskat this morning, he is now fine and is uniform. Also, Carlos Zambrano has fully recovered from whatever he had yesterday that seemed like it might be appendicitis but turned out not to be, and he is also ready to go. (BREAKING NEWS: Z's problem was "food-related." Do you really need to know any more?)
Derrek Lee, who could teach Albert Pujols a thing or two about how to slump (see below), looked like a different hitter in the L.A. series. He's 8-for-12 in the last four games and is also a .326 lifetime hitter against this afternoon's St. Louis starter, Chris Carpenter.
About the visitors...
After charging out of the gate 18-8 and building a five-game lead in the NL Central, the Cardinals have gone 9-13 and currently sit second, a game behind the Reds. They had lost four in a row before winning yesterday in San Diego. They have two starting pitchers hurt and unfortunately neither one of them is named Carpenter or Wainwright, who will go Sunday.
On offense, the great Pujols has looked very nearly mortal lately. He homered yesterday in San Diego, his first long ball in roughly two weeks—TWO ENTIRE WEEKS WITHOUT A HOME RUN!—but I think we can all agree that he still scares the crap out of us, can't we?
Oh, one more thing—Tony LaRussa is in a bad mood:
La Russa reiterated his frustration with a schedule that had his team start Thursday's game at 5:35 p.m. St. Louis time. The Cardinals then had to board a charter [from San Diego] for Chicago, then open a series against the Cubs at 1:20 p.m. today. La Russa said he voiced his displeasure over the scheduling with Padres chairman Jeff Moorad.
We don't like TLR when he's mad. Actually, we don't like him at all.
Friday's pitchers: Carpenter (5-1.3.09) v. Randy Wells (3-2, 3.99)
Carpenter is coming off a game he should have lost but didn't (8 H, 4 ER, 6 IP v. the Angels) because the offense bailed him out with an extra-innings victory. He has been relatively vulnerable to the home run ball this year, having already allowed nine after serving up just seven through all of 2009.
Wells limited the Rangers to just three runs over 8 1/3 IP last time out, though he didn't get the win. It was the third solid effort, none of which have provided a victory for Wells, since that ugly game in Pittsburgh back at the beginning of the month.