Cardinals 3, Cubs 2: Playing To Win

David Banks

The Cardinals are a better team than the Cubs. It showed in many different ways Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

My friend Dave said, as the Cubs' bullpen moves wound up helping to lose Friday's game to St. Louis 3-2, said, "The Cardinals play to win. The Cubs play not to lose."

And that's a difference worth noting. Of course, it helps that the Cardinals can keep plugging in guys who can throw 95-plus heat from their bullpen, and the Cubs don't have that.

But Dale Sveum's bullpen choices helped lose this game, along with not double-switching Julio Borbon into the game after the sixth inning. Seriously, what is Dale thinking? If he's going to wind up pulling Carlos Villanueva anyway, and the pitcher's spot is due up third in the bottom of the seventh, and Borbon is going to be the pinch-hitter, why not just put Borbon in center field? Brian Bogusevic, who isn't the greatest center fielder anyway, had just made the last out of the bottom of the sixth.

Borbon might have caught the ball that Matt Carpenter hit for an RBI double in the top of the seventh off Matt Guerrier, and if that had happened, Starlin Castro's home run would have tied the game instead of leading to another agonizing one-run loss. That dropped the team's record in one-run affairs to 11-20.

And why is James Russell up and down and up and down in the pen again? His arm's going to fall off just from the warmup pitches, let alone being on pace for 80 appearances, which would be a career high. The Cubs again don't have the flexibility to play matchups, with Russell as the only lefthander in the pen. Maybe Russell should have been in the game instead of Matt Guerrier, instead of being saved for a ninth inning where his presence was almost extraneous.

Let's go back to the beginning. Villanueva had a tough first inning, but then settled down and retired 15 of the next 17 hitters he faced, several of them on fly balls to right field which were very difficult plays for Nate Schierholtz into a bright late-afternoon sun. That's yet another reason these 3:05 starts are no good -- a tough right field for fielders. Of course, that's the same for both teams. The shadow of the upper deck crossed the plate about 5:05 and crossed the mound about 5:45, 40 minutes' worth of advantage: pitcher, about two innings' worth. They never did turn the lights on; I've been told that does help infield visibility when you have shadows like that.

It probably wouldn't have made any difference against the Cardinals' flamethrowers; only Castro was able to solve them, hitting that home run into the left-field basket in the eighth inning. The Cubs did have a shot against Randy Choate in the sixth, with runners on first and second with one out, but Bogusevic's double play ball ended that threat.

The bottom line, I suppose, is that the Cardinals are a good team throughout their 25-man roster and the Cubs aren't -- yet.

Credit to Castro again today for playing solid defense and having better at-bats. He's now 20-for-67 (.299) in his last 16 games with three doubles and three home runs. Maybe the proverbial corner has been turned.

On a beautiful day that is one of the types of days we dream about when it's cold, rainy and windy in April, Cubs first round pick Kris Bryant took batting practice. He launched, say the ballhawks, at least nine baseballs onto Waveland or close; perhaps he was just putting on a show for the assembled media and fans watching early BP, but Bryant was easily visible even from the bleachers, at 6-foot-5. He said all the right things in his news conference, saying he'd "listen to his coach" if the team wants him to play outfield instead of third base. Here's hoping he starts his pro career the same way he ended up in college.

The weather brought out one of the bigger crowds of the year, and the Cardinal fans were loudly in evidence whenever their team did anything good (which, unfortunately, was often). I'd say the crowd was at least one-third Cardinals fans, but the game was about 4,000 short of a sellout, likely because this game was priced at Marquee level. Saturday's game, also priced that way, is, I have heard, sold out -- but that's Saturday, not Friday. The Cubs might have sold out this game at lower prices.

With Matt Garza and Travis Wood going in the next two games, the Cubs do have at least a chance to get out with a split, if not a series win. The starting rotation will be adjusted somewhat coming out of the break:

Here's hoping for some better bullpen work as the next road trip begins, too.

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