The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are set to renew their longtime rivalry on Monday when they meet up for a National League Central Division showdown at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis continues to own the best record in the majors and entered Monday's series opener 19 games above .500 (44-25). However, the team is looking to get back on track after dropping two of three to the lowly Miami Marlins over the weekend.
The Cardinals fell in Sunday's series finale, 7-2, for their first series loss since April. The offense managed only three hits and one run over seven innings against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco.
With a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning against the Mets on Sunday, Chicago looked to be on its way to a season-best fourth straight road win. However, Carlos Marmol imploded by giving up four runs in the ninth, as Kirk Nieuwenhuis ended it with a walk-off, three-run home run.
"When you blow a save, you lost the game. It's tough," Marmol said.
Despite the loss, the Cubs offense has started to come around of late. They managed to score five runs or more in each of their previous three games. Prior to that, the team had been held to two or fewer runs in five of six games.
"I think we're giving ourselves more opportunities to score runs," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "We had a lot of guys on base (Saturday). If you keep giving yourself opportunities, eventually you're going to come through."
Taking the hill for Chicago on Monday is hard-luck left-hander Travis Wood, who has lost each of his last two starts despite allowing three runs in 13 innings. Wood received a total of only one run from his offense in those starts. His .191 opponents' batting average on the season is the best mark in the NL.
"It's a broken record. Woody's just pitched another great game and has nothing to show for it," manager Dale Sveum said after Wood held the Reds to two runs in seven innings on Wednesday.
Wood faced the Cardinals on May 7 and allowed just one run on six hits in 6 2/3 innings. He also struck out eight.
The Cards will turn to rookie Shelby Miller, who is 7-4 with a 2.21 ERA. His seven wins are tops among all rookies, while his ERA ranks fifth overall in the NL. St. Louis has had 10 rookie pitchers make an appearance this season, and yet the team's 3.23 ERA is the best in the majors.
"Everybody is up here for a reason, and everybody has talent," Miller said. "I'm fortunate to be with a good ballclub, and we're winning games. I've had a good season, but I try to stay humble about it and keep working hard to win games for this team."
In Miller's last outing, he gave up four earned runs on five hits over six innings of a 5-1 loss to the Mets on Wednesday. Miller added 10 strikeouts to raise his season total to 91, tops among rookie hurlers.
These teams split a two-game series at Wrigley Field last month. The Cubs have lost four in a row in St. Louis. They were outscored, 23-1, in their last visit from July 20-22 of last season.