ST. LOUIS — After a 1-5 road trip in which they scored three or fewer runs every game, the St. Louis Cardinals return to Busch Stadium for a weekend series against the Chicago Cubs.
Although the Cubs (38-53) are buried in the standings, they have won 14 of 19 and have Ryan Dempster, the hottest pitcher in the National League, ready for the series opener at 7:15 p.m. Friday.
Dempster (5-3, 1.86 ERA), who will be opposed by Kyle Lohse (9-2, 2.80 ERA), has thrown 33 consecutive scoreless innings over his last five starts and is coveted by no fewer than 10 teams as the nonwaiver trade deadline of July 31 approaches.
The Cardinals can hope Dempster is traded before the game begins, but Dempster told reporters Thursday that nothing appeared imminent and that it was business as usual.
St. Louis maintains mild interest in Dempster, but Atlanta and the Los Angeles Dodgers have been reported to be the front-runners for the 35-year-old, who has veto authority based on 10 years in the league and five with the same team.
Whomever the Cardinals face, they must find a way to energize their moribund offense. Clutch hits have been almost nonexistent and first baseman Lance Berkman hasn't regained his swing since returning from knee surgery.
Berkman has enjoyed success throughout his career against Dempster, batting .292 (19-for-65) with six home runs and 16 RBIs.
Dempster had a no-decision against the Cardinals on May 14 at Busch Stadium and is 8-8 with a 4.57 ERA against them in his career.
The Cardinals (47-45), who are five games behind first-place Cincinnati and 4 1/2 games behind second-place Pittsburgh, batted .249 on the road trip (51-for-205), including .157 with runners in scoring position (8-for-51).
St. Louis will face another tough pitcher, Matt Garza, in the second game of the series at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. Garza, like Dempster, is expected to be traded before the July 31 deadline and has as many as 10 suitors. Jake Westbrook (7-8, 3.82 ERA) will pitch against Garza.
The 1:15 p.m. finale on Sunday will pit Cardinals All-Star Lance Lynn (11-4, 3.27 ERA) against Travis Wood (4-4, 3.92 ERA).
One of Chicago's most dangerous hitters against the Cardinals this season has been All-Star Bryan LaHair.
LaHair is batting .425 (10-for-23) with five homers and nine RBIs against St. Louis pitching. He is playing right field now that prized prospect Anthony Rizzo has arrived from Triple-A Iowa to take over at first base.
Rizzo is batting .338 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 17 games, and is seen as a rising star in the Cubs' latest rebuilding program under new President Theo Epstein.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.