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Cardinals 9, Cubs 6: More Work Must Be Done

The Cubs wound up splitting the four-game series in St. Louis. Which would have been a fine result coming in, but not after winning the first two.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs should have won this game, and didn't, instead losing 9-6 to the Cardinals, and there's a lot to complain about, so let's get started!

First: In the long term, if this team is going to be successful they're going to have to play better outfield defense. The Cardinals began their comeback from a 5-0 deficit in part because Arismendy Alcantara and Chris Coghlan didn't catch eminently catchable fly balls in a three-run fifth inning for St. Louis. Alcantara had a ball in his glove and dropped it; the play went for a double for Matt Carpenter. Later in the inning, Coghlan took another one of his not-so-great routes and missed a fly ball that wasn't as easy a play as the one Alcantara missed, but a better left fielder catches the ball that went for a double for Matt Holliday.

Travis Wood didn't pitch all that badly, but he didn't make it out of that inning after throwing 98 pitches and recording only 14 outs. The Cubs had built that 5-0 lead on the strength of a two-run homer by Luis Valbuena in the second inning, an inning that also included some sketchy defense from the Cardinals. Wood had tried to sacrifice with two runners on base but Cardinals pitcher John Lackey threw the ball away; a run scored and Coghlan followed that up with a two-run double. The inning might have been even better had Javier Baez not hit into a double play.

There was also a bit of extracurricular activity when Lackey and Starlin Castro had some words after Castro had flied out to end the top of the fourth. The two appeared to have words and coach Eric Hinske and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina had to make peace. Len & JD speculated it might have had something to do with Castro being hit earlier in the game. Holliday got hit later on, but there were no repercussions. He also homered, his third of the series.

Alcantara atoned for his lapse, in a way, by hitting his seventh homer of the season in the seventh inning to give the Cubs a two-run lead at the time. I don't want to be too hard on Alcantara because he's still learning to play center field and this is all a process. But I wonder if in the long run, he'll be good enough out there to play everyday center field. He can certainly hit well enough to play every day, or most days, in the major leagues. Coghlan has also hit well over the last couple of months, but still seems awkward at times in left field and perhaps is better suited to being a fourth outfielder.

Unfortunately, then the Cardinals came back and tied the game in the bottom of the seventh off Wesley Wright and Pedro Strop with some seeing-eye base hits.

And after all of this, Rick Renteria brought Carlos Villanueva in to throw the eighth inning of a tie game. I did not understand this at all -- Villanueva threw an inning in Saturday's second game and granted, it was just 10 pitches, but shouldn't that have been a situation for Neil Ramirez? (Yes, I know Ramirez also threw Saturday, and more pitches, 21.) Villanueva gave up a leadoff double, then glanced away just long enough for a sac bunt to turn into a hit. He struck out pinch-hitter Matt Adams, but then the Cubs decided not to pitch to Carpenter even with first base occupied. After another strikeout, Holliday hit a two-run single that hit Villanueva and got past Valbuena that turned out to be the game-winner. The Cardinals added another run and it felt like piling on.

I hate games like this -- winnable contests that are just pissed away because of poor play and poor choices. And if this recap sounds a little disjointed, it's because I had to rewrite it about three times before finally finishing up. Apologies if it doesn't read as well as it might. That's about what this game deserves, I think.

The Cubs finish August with a winning record at 16-14, though it could have been better with just a little bit better play. Perhaps September will improve on August's promise; it begins Monday afternoon with the first game of a three-game series at Wrigley Field against the Brewers. Jacob Turner gets the start against Brewers rookie Jimmy Nelson.