The St. Louis Cardinals' struggles after the All-Star break are a distant memory thanks to an offense that has been putting up big numbers.
The next pitcher they face, though, may have just what it takes to slow them down.
St. Louis looks to match a season high with its fifth straight win Saturday when it takes on the Chicago Cubs and red-hot starter Jeff Samardzija , who kept the Cardinals in check in Wrigley Field earlier this year.
The Cardinals (54-46) opened a six-game trip following the break and won just once before returning home to face the Cubs (40-58) for the first of seven straight contests at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis outscored Chicago 23-1 in sweeping a three-game series last weekend before taking three of four from Los Angeles, scoring 18 runs in the victories and recording a season-high 18 hits in Thursday's 7-4 win.
The Cardinals banged out another 10 hits in the opener of this three-game set Friday, with a season high-tying five of them leaving Wrigley in a 9-6 win.
St. Louis became the first team in the majors to hit a home run in each of the first five innings since 2004, as Matt Holliday , Yadier Molina , Lance Berkman , Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig went deep.
"All those balls were crushed," Holliday said. "None of those were cheap home runs. If the wind was blowing out, those would have been a lot more impressive."
Holliday's homer was part of a 3-for-5 day, and he's batting .434 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs over his last 35 games.
The left fielder has hit five of his 18 homers this season against the Cubs, and he's batting .367 (18 for 49) with 10 RBIs and 14 runs scored in helping St. Louis take eight of 12 meetings - including the last five.
Holliday has faced Samardzija 11 times in his career, tied for the fifth-most at-bats ever against the right-hander, and he's managed just three singles.
Samardzija (7-8, 4.25 ERA) is having a great month, going 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts. He has been even better in his last two outings, posting a 0.69 ERA, and is coming off perhaps the best start of his career after giving up one hit and one walk over eight innings in Monday's 2-0 victory at Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals reached him for five runs and 10 hits over five innings in St. Louis on April 13, but he came away with the win after the Cubs jumped out to a 9-0 lead.
Eleven days later in Chicago, Samardzija held the Cardinals scoreless through 6 2-3 innings of the Cubs' 3-2 win in 10.
Samardzija, in his first full season as a starter, will be opposed by rookie Joe Kelly (1-3, 2.78). The right-hander was saddled with the Cardinals' only loss in their last eight games, 5-3 to the Dodgers on Monday.
Kelly will get his first look at the Cubs and fellow rookie Anthony Rizzo , who homered for the second straight game Friday. The first baseman is batting .330 with six home runs and 15 RBIs in 25 games since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa on June 26.
Rizzo is 4 for 7 with five RBIs over the past two games.
"It's a good feeling to be in that kind of mindset at the plate," he said. "I just want to stick to it right now and keep going."
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|July 26, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Left game - right calf cramp|
|July 24, 2012||Lance Berkman||Day-to-Day||Left game - HBP right knee|
|July 17, 2012||Matt Holliday||Day-to-Day||Left game - Left thigh|
|July 08, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Bruised left leg|
|June 06, 2012||Jaime Garcia||15-Day DL||Strained left shoulder|
|June 06, 2012||Jaime Garcia||60-Day DL||Sprained left shoulder|
|July 21, 2012||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Left game - right triceps cramp|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
|June 13, 2012||Ian Stewart||15-Day DL||Sore left wrist|
|June 02, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Stress reaction in right elbow|
|May 19, 2012||Welington Castillo||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
CHICAGO (AP) -- Reed Johnson saw only one pitch in the game, and that was all he needed to have a big impact with a little hit.
Pinch hitting in the seventh inning, Johnson drove in the go-ahead with a bunt single and the Chicago Cubs got past St. Louis 3-2 Saturday, ending the Cardinals' four-game winning streak.
Johnson caught the Cardinals by surprise when he squared up on the first pitch with runners on first and third and two outs. Johnson's bunt fell perfectly between reliever Brian Fuentes and third baseman Matt Carpenter , allowing pinch-runner Tony Campana to score.
"That's a part of my game," Johnson said. "If there is an RBI out there (and if) they're going to give me that bunt at third, I'm going to take advantage of that every time."
The Cubs snapped a five-game skid against St. Louis and have won nine of its last 11 overall at Wrigley Field. One day after the Cardinals homered in each of the first five innings in a 9-6 win over the Cubs, Chicago evened the series on a hit that traveled about 40 feet.
"That was all on his own," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Reed is one of them baseball players that has those things in his toolbox.
"He's just an ultimate baseball player that you love having around," he said.
James Russell (3-0) earned the win in relief.
Carlos Marmol pitched the ninth for his 13th save in 15 chances. He struck out Skip Schumaker and got John Jay on a groundout with pinch-runner Tyler Greene on second to end the type of game the Cubs struggled to win earlier this season.
"The back of that bullpen has been pretty good," Sveum said. "It wasn't all that good at the beginning."
Bryan LaHair drew a leadoff walk in the seventh from rookie Joe Kelly (1-4). Campana entered the game and stole his 26th base in 29 tries, then went to third on Geovany Soto 's single. Two outs later, Johnson bunted for a hit.
"Campana, that's a huge stolen base against the best throwing catcher in baseball after they were really keeping him close, " Sveum said. "That's a big-time stolen base in a big situation."
Kelly gave up a two-run triple to Alfonso Soriano in the first, but limited Chicago to three runs over a career-high 6 1-3 innings. He retired 14 straight batters at one point and struck out a career-best six. Kelly hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his nine outings this season.
"I went out there and gave up two early and in that environment it's not too easy to come back from," Kelly said. "I was confident in my skills and my stuff and felt good, make quality pitches down in the zone and let our team have a chance to come back."
Both starters struggled early, then settled down - combining to strike out seven straight batters at one point.
Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija 's first seven pitches eluded the strike zone and he walked the bases full on 16 pitches. He limited St. Louis to one run in the inning on an RBI grounder by Carlos Beltran .
"Back in the day, it probably would have been a different day for me," Samardzija said. "I'm starting to learn how to pitch in those situations, and how to get out of them with minimal damage."
The Cubs are still 17 games under .500 for the season, but improved to 17-10 since June 25.
"I really like how we're playing baseball right now," Samardzija said. "It's fun to come to the park. Everybody is excited and happy."
NOTES: Cardinals 3B David Freese was held out of the starting lineup for the second straight day after leaving Thursday's win over the Dodgers because of cramping in his right calf. He was available for pinch-hitting duty on Saturday and manager Mike Matheny expects him to return to the lineup for Sunday's series finale. ... Cubs RHP Matt Garza reported no problems after throwing off flat ground on Saturday. He is slated to throw a bullpen session on Monday and if that goes well, he is in line to make his next start in the latter part of next week. Garza left his last outing on July 21 because of cramping. An MRI showed a small trace of fluid buildup in his right triceps. ... Sveum was ejected after the seventh inning by 1B umpire Mike Winters for arguing that Starlin Castro had beaten out an infield hit with the bases loaded.