It's always an intense time when the Cardinals head to Wrigley field for a series. But this year will have an unusual tension in the air because Cubs fans -- and a lot of the members of the Chicago media for that matter -- believe that St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols will be hotly pursued by the Cubs at the end of the season.
The facts that Pujols could be a free agent, the Cubs have a gaping hole at first base and that they Wee Bears spend money like they beat Geraldo Rivera to the contents of Al Capone's secret vault have Chicago fans drooling. One of the most popular editions of Cubs jerseys being sold around Wrigley field this year ALREADY has "Pujols 5" on the back.
The wooing is pretty blatent. I wonder if Albert remembers that these are the same people who for the previous nine seasons wore tee shirts that offered an obscene interpretations of Pujols. But not nearly as much as I wonder if Cubs fans have heard that Albert's top free agent desire is to play for a team that has a chance to win every year. That would seem to put the North Siders at the bottom of his list...
Their offense is decent but the Cubs defense is terrible. And, despite the unexpected resurgence of Carlos Zambrano (who looked more likely to be wearing a straight jacket this season than a Chicago uniform with his temper tantrums and exile from the team in 2010) the Wee Bears are threadbare in the starting rotation. It all adds up to a 15-18 record and the fourth place position in the National League central a game and a half behind the Pirates. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are in first place with a 20-15 record and they haven't dropped a series since losing two of three to the Giants a month ago in San Francisco.
Cardinals outfielders Matt Holliday (.398) and Lance Berkman (.374) are first and second in the National League in batting average. Meanwhile Cubs flychaser Alfonso Soriano leads the senior circuit with 11 homers. But Berkman is second with 10. Berkman tops the RBI chart with 32.
Cardinals hard luck ace Chris Carpenter (0-2, 4.19) will take on Zambrano (4-1, 4.23) in the series opener on Tuesday. While he's pitched well enough to keep his team in the game every start but one so far in 2011, Carpenter's last two games have been weaker than his earlier performances. He's given up 20 hits and seven earned runs over his last 13 innings pitched. Zambrano, meanwhile, has had two strong starts his last pair of games. He's allowed three runs on nine hits over his last 14 innings to earn a win in each of his last two starts.
Jake Westbrook (2-2, 6.14) will take on Matt Garza (1-4, 4.43) in the middle tilt. After a terrible start to the season, Westbrook has pitched three strong games in a row -- although he still hasn't made it past 6 1/3 innings this season. He's 2-0 lifetime against the Cubs with a 3.98 ERA. Garza has been the losing pitcher in two of his last three games and is 0-1 with a 12.48 lifetime ERA against St. Louis.
In the finale, St. Louis lefty Jaime Garcia (4-0, 1.99) will start against Casey Coleman (1-2, 6.49). Garcia flirted with a no-hitter his last time out, eventually allowing two hits in a complete game shut-out of the Brewers. He's allowed less than one baserunner per inning for far this season and has a 4-1 strikeout to walks ratio. Coleman lost his only career start to St. Louis although he only allowed two earned runs and five hits over six innings.