CHICAGO – If the St. Louis Cardinals expect to hold off a host of teams vying for the second NL wild card spot, taking care of business against the Cubs is a must.
The Cubs, however, won’t let their rival cruise to the playoffs. They have little to play for in the final two weeks of the regular season and, other than avoiding 100 losses, nothing would be better than ruining the Cardinals’ season.
The Cubs (59-93) split the first two games of their final series against the Cardinals, losing, 5-4, in 10 innings on Saturday. In each game, the Cubs erased a deficit, overcoming a 3-0 Cardinals lead in Saturday’s loss.
“They have nothing to lose,” St. Louis outfielder Carlos Beltran said. “They’re just gonna come here and play the game. Sometimes teams get hot and teams get cold. They’re putting together good at-bats. They’re pitching well. They’re a big league ballclub. It’s not like we’re facing a Triple-A team. They’re big league ballplayers."
Despite squandering a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning – Beltran’s one-out solo homer off closer Carlos Marmol tied the score – the Cubs made St. Louis (81-71) sweat out the win. Between six relievers and starting pitcher Travis Wood combining to strand 13 Cardinals runners, St. Louis was on the verge of losing its fourth straight game to the Cubs.
“When you're playing contenders you're trying to keep somebody out of the playoffs,” Wood said. “Just battle and win every game.
“I think we're all out there trying to play as hard as we can every game, especially this late in the season.”
Jon Jay ultimately delivered the go-ahead run on his two-out double in the 10th off Jaye Chapman. But for the second straight day the Cubs threatened to pull out an extra-inning win. The Cardinals can’t wait to leave town and forget about playing them until next season. As St. Louis clings to a 2 1/2-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers for the final wild card spot, they’ve dropped five of eight games at Wrigley and are only 9-7 against the Cubs, who own the third-worst record in baseball.
“We have been in both games and came back and won [Friday] night,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “We had the lead with two outs to go, which was kind of the same thing that happened to them last night. We battled and had great at-bats and everybody has done a great job.”
Since Sept. 1, 18 of the Cubs’ 21 games have been against teams that will win their division or are in contention for a playoff berth. The opportunity to play spoiler isn’t lost on the Cubs. Sunday represents the Cubs’ final chance to make the Cardinals’ playoff hopes a little tougher. The Cubs end the season with six of their nine games against the two worst teams in the majors, Colorado and Houston.
“That’s all we want to do,” Sveum said. “Whether we win or lose, the guys are battling and not making it easy on anybody. We have had some real quality at-bats and done a really good job on some tough situations.”
Cardinals 5, Cubs 4 (10 inn.)
Tipping point: Carlos Marmol had converted 19 consecutive save opportunities until Saturday. St. Louis outfielder Carlos Beltran clubbed a solo home run in the ninth to tie the score, and the Cardinals' Jon Jay drove in the winning run in the 10th on a double off reliever Jaye Chapman.
On the mound: A high pitch count in the second and third innings prevented lefty Travis Wood from pitching deep into the game, but he kept the Cubs in it by allowing three runs (two earned) in five innings, striking out seven and walking two.
At the plate: The wind robbed David DeJesus of a home run in the first inning against Adam Wainwright, but he got it back in the sixth, his solo homer sparking a three-run inning to put the Cubs ahead, 4-3. Welington Castillo and Dave Sappelt each added an RBI.
Under the radar: Although Marmol blew the save, which ended his saves streak, the longest of his career, the right-hander has been one of their most reliable pitchers since the All-Star break. During the second half, Marmol owns a 1.40 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings.