Home Stretch

The stretch run is set up nicely for the St. Louis Cardinals, with their ace set to face the Chicago Cubs in one of two key NL Central series. The one thing they're sorely lacking is any kind of positive momentum.

With Adam Wainwright taking the mound, the Cardinals look to snap a season-long seven-game losing streak when they open a four-game set with the first-place Cubs on Friday night at Busch Stadium.

St. Louis (69-75) has 17 games remaining - including four against Chicago (75-71) and three against second-place Milwaukee - to try and make up a five-game deficit in the NL Central. The Cardinals adjusted their rotation so that Wainwright (13-10, 3.75 ERA) would start this series' opener, but it may be too late as the defending World Series champions hardly seem deserving of a chance to defend their title.

St. Louis has lost seven straight for the first time since Sept. 20-26 of last season and is one defeat away from matching its longest losing streak of 2006, set from July 28-Aug. 4.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Chicago -105 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 8.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 84% of bets for this game have been placed on Chicago -105 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

"We're a little flat, things aren't going our way, and we're not playing good baseball," Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds said after a 5-4 loss to Cincinnati on Thursday. "All those add up to losses. It's really no different than it was at the beginning of the year. It's just a bad time for it right now."

St. Louis was 10 1/2 games out at the end of June, but surged to draw within a game of first place in the NL Central before its current skid.

"We can basically put them out of the way," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

If the Cardinals have any chance of putting together a serious run, a strong start from Wainwright would be a good way to begin. Wainwright, in his first season as a starter, is 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA in his last eight outings.

Wainwright was scheduled to pitch Thursday, but will now go on six days' rest.

The right-hander, though, is 0-2 with an 11.66 ERA in three starts against Chicago this season. Wainwright's other nine appearances against the Cubs were all in relief, and he has a 9.00 ERA overall against them.

In his last start, Wainwright allowed three runs - two earned - and six hits in six innings of a 4-2 loss to Arizona last Friday.

Wainwright is part of a marquee pitching matchup, with Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano (15-12, 4.26 ERA) opposing him.

Zambrano had been struggling before his last outing, when he gave up one run and two hits while striking out eight in six innings to end a five-start losing streak with a 5-1 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night.

The right-hander posted a 9.42 ERA during his skid, and had been 0-3 since signing a $91.5 million contract extension last month.

Zambrano, however, has been outstanding against the Cardinals, posting a 2.03 ERA en route to winning both of his starts against them this season. He is 7-4 with a 2.45 ERA in 17 starts and one relief appearance lifetime versus St. Louis.

The Cubs have won two straight, including a 6-2 victory over Houston on Thursday night. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Daryle Ward and Cliff Floyd all homered for Chicago, which has a one-half game lead over Milwaukee in the division race.

"It doesn't matter if you hit 10 home runs every day," Ramirez said. "If you don't pitch and if you don't play defense, you're not going to win games. You've got to do everything right. Everybody has got to do their job for us to be able to win games."

Soriano homered on the second pitch of the game Thursday for his 40th career leadoff homer. With eight leadoff home runs this season, he has tied the franchise record set by Rick Monday in 1976.

Soriano, though, has just one home run in 82 career at-bats against the Cardinals.

St. Louis and Chicago will play a doubleheader Saturday. The Cubs have won eight of 12 meetings this year, including a 12-3 win in a makeup game Monday at Wrigley Field.

by: Dave Michaels - thespread.com – Email Us

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