Every time the Cardinals were in a situation where they could take the lead, pad their lead or come from behind, they did so, much of the time in spectacular fashion. Example: the Cardinals went 8-for-16 with RISP. Now think about those numbers for a moment. Just the fact that St. Louis had 16 at-bats with RISP is remarkable enough; the Cubs had nine, and most teams won't have more than that in a single game. Eight hits in those situations? That's how you get to where the Cardinals are, perennial contenders. The Cubs were 3-for-9 with RISP Sunday night. That is, in fact, better than most Cubs performances in those situations. Even so, the lineup was quite unbalanced in its production Sunday; the first four hitters in the lineup went 3-for-18.
The Cardinals scored a pair of runs, one each in the third and fourth innings, after starting those innings with two out and no one on base. They scored five of their first six runs with two out. They scored one run on a perfect bunt with two out. And, when the Cubs fought back to tie the game, they put it away with a three-run homer in the ninth inning by MVP candidate Yadier Molina (Say, Cardinals fans: you can take that "Yadi! Yadi! Yadi!" chant right back to St. Louis with you.)
Give the Cubs some credit for staying close in this one, at least. After Travis Wood was lifted one out short of another quality start and trailing 3-1, Darwin Barney smashed a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead. This time, the bullpen didn't do its job; Matt Guerrier got hit hard and was charged with two runs, one of them on a Matt Carpenter single off James Russell. Blake Parker -- same thing, got hit hard, and it appeared to me that Anthony Rizzo might have cut off a ball too soon on a Matt Adams double. David Freese scored a run that gave the Cardinals a 6-4 lead in the eighth inning; would a relay from Rizzo have gotten him at the plate? Watching in person, it appeared so; I watched the MLB.TV archive and it sure looked like they at least had a shot at getting Freese.
Even then, the Cubs managed to come back when pinch-hitter Cody Ransom doubled into the left-center field gap, scoring Barney and new acquisition Cole Gillespie, who had both singled off 99 mile-per-hour Cardinals reliever Trevor Rosenthal. That tied the game 6-6.
And then, the ninth. Perhaps the Cubs should have traded Kevin Gregg before now, because he's been hit hard in his last few outings. Even some of the recent games when Gregg has posted saves, he's had balls hard-hit for outs. This time, he gave up four hits in the ninth inning, attempting to preserve a 6-6 tie. Even after a double and two singles produced one run for St. Louis, Gregg had the chance to keep the game close, and then he served up the homer to Molina. (That saved me from having to criticize Dave Sappelt for bumbling around with Carlos Beltran's double, allowing Beltran to take third. Obviously, with three more hits including the homer in the inning, he'd have scored anyway.) The sounds you heard after that were the footsteps of scouts there to watch Gregg leaving Wrigley Field.
21 Cardinals hits; a key hit in virtually every situation they needed it, and the crushing blow when the Cubs had clawed their way back into the game. That's how a winning team is built; this is what the Cubs aspire to be. They'll need to start developing players like the Cardinals have. Of St. Louis' eight position players in Sunday night's game, six of them are from the Cardinals organization and a seventh (Freese) has never played a big-league game for another team (essentially developed by them as he was acquired in a big-league trade with the Padres and never played above High-A for San Diego). Soon, we hope, the Cubs will be developing players this way. In addition to the position-player prospects, the Cubs will also have to do better with relief pitching, obviously one of the team's biggest weaknesses. It's possible to do this by acquisition; Edward Mujica, Cardinals closer due to injuries to others this year, was a nothing-special setup guy for the Marlins a year ago, acquired by St. Louis for a minor leaguer at last year's trading deadline.
Wrigley Field was emptier Sunday night than it had been Saturday; many Cardinals fans must have headed back to St. Louis, although those who stuck around were plenty loud after Molina hit the home run in the ninth. ESPN got an entertaining, if overly long (three hours, 47 minutes) game for their trouble; I doubt we see them back at Wrigley before 2014.
When, I presume, the Cubs will be a better team than they are now. At least they managed to split this four-game set; they are 4-6 vs. the Cardinals this year, not bad against a team that enters the break with the best record in the major leagues.
Stick around BCB during the All-Star break; in addition to threads for the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game itself, we'll have plenty of Cubs-related material, follow all the trade rumors and report on trades if any are made, and be ready for the second half of the Cubs' season to begin in Denver Friday night.