Shelby Miller has routinely confounded hitters this season. The St. Louis Cardinals right-hander, though, is still trying to solve his own first-inning struggles.
Miller faces the Chicago Cubs on Monday night when the NL Central rivals meet in St. Louis for the first time this season.
The Cardinals' rotation is tops in baseball with a 2.97 ERA and Miller (7-4, 2.21 ERA) has played a big part, leading all rookies in wins. He also has the most strikeouts among first-year players with 91 after recording 10 in a 5-1 road loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday.
Despite his impressive record and ERA, Miller has a .357 opponents' batting average in the first inning and has given up two runs in the first in three of his last four starts.
"I don't necessarily know what it is, but I'm going to go back and watch film through those first couple of innings to see if there is something I can pick up," Miller told the Cardinals' official website.
Miller will make his second appearance and first start against the Cubs (28-39), who are coming off a 4-3 loss to the Mets on Sunday. Chicago was three outs from a fourth consecutive victory - and season-best fourth in a row on the road - before Carlos Marmol gave up all the runs in the ninth inning."When you blow a save, you lost the game. It's tough," Marmol said.
The Cubs will now try to end a four-game skid in St. Louis, where they were outscored 23-1 while getting swept in their last visit July 20-22.
Travis Wood (5-5, 2.65) knows all too well about the Cubs' offensive struggles. The left-hander has been the team's most consistent pitcher but has lost his last two starts despite allowing three runs in 13 innings. Chicago totaled one run in those outings."It's a broken record," manager Dale Sveum said after Wood threw seven innings of two-run ball in a 2-1 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday. "Woody's just pitched another great game and has nothing to show for it."
Wood, who has a league-best .191 opponents' batting average, surrendered a home run to Allen Craig in 6 2-3 innings of a 2-1 home win over St. Louis on May 7.
Wood will take on a Cardinals team that dropped two of three to Miami over the weekend. St. Louis (44-25) hadn't lost a series since April 26-28.
Carlos Beltran had his 14-game hitting streak snapped in a 7-2 defeat Sunday, but he went 5 for 9 with two RBIs as St. Louis and Chicago split two games May 7-8. He was 1 for 3 against Wood last month.
So was Yadier Molina , who's batting an NL-best .352. He should be behind the plate for the start of this seven-game homestand after walking in a pinch-hitting appearance Sunday.
Molina, 4 for 8 against Chicago in May, is a .335 hitter at home versus the Cubs after going 9 for 25 (.360) with a homer and 10 RBIs in seven such games last season.
The Cardinals outscored the Cubs 54-26 while winning six of eight meetings at Busch Stadium in 2012.
|June 15, 2013||David DeJesus||15-Day DL||Right shoulder sprain|
|June 14, 2013||David DeJesus||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right shoulder|
|June 12, 2013||Zach Putnam||15-Day DL||Right elbow soreness|
|June 11, 2013||Zach Putnam||Day-to-Day||Left game - Undisclosed injury|
|May 27, 2013||Kyuji Fujikawa||60-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|May 27, 2013||Rafael Dolis||15-Day DL||Strained right forearm|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|May 26, 2013||John Gast||15-Day DL||Left shoulder tightness|
|May 26, 2013||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder soreness|
|May 25, 2013||John Gast||Day-to-Day||Left game - left shoulder tightness|
|May 21, 2013||Fernando Salas||15-Day DL||Right shoulder irritation|
|May 18, 2013||Jaime Garcia||60-Day DL||Left shoulder strain|
|May 09, 2013||Jake Westbrook||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Known for his defense, Yadier Molina is putting together an impressive offensive season.
Molina had two more hits Monday night against the Chicago Cubs , including a two-run double, to help the Cardinals to a 5-2 win in the opener of a four-game series. Those two hits raised his average to a National League best .355.
Although Molina has topped the .300 mark the past two seasons, hitting .305 in 2011 and a career-best .315 last season, he seems to be at a different level in 2013, though he appears afraid to he might jinx himself.
"Next question," Molina said when asked about leading the league in hitting. "I'm glad we got the win for Shelby (Miller). At the same time, he pitched pretty good."
After waiting out a rain delay of 1 hour, 59 minutes to start the game, Miller (8-4) pitched five scoreless innings to get the win for the Cardinals. He left after five innings with cramps in his right leg.
"He did a great job," said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny . "Had a little warning there that his calf had tightened up (and) we didn't know exactly what we were dealing with. We found out it's just a cramp. He should be fine."
Miller allowed just two hits and struck out five in the shortest start of his career. His previous shortest stint was 5 1-3 innings at Los Angeles on May 26.
"I guess I was a little dehydrated this week," Miller said. "But if feels OK. We'll see how it feels tomorrow."
Kevin Siegrist and Seth Manness followed Miller and combined for two shutout innings before Trevor Rosenthal allowed a run in the eighth on a broken bat single by Nate Schierholtz . Edward Mujica gave up a homer to Darwin Barney with two outs in the ninth, but still earned his 20th save in 20 opportunities.
Shane Robinson and Allen Craig added sacrifice flies for the Cardinals, who moved back to a major league best 20 games over .500 (45-25).
Chicago fell to 8-22 against the National League Central, the lowest winning percentage by any team in its own division (.266). The Cubs are 5-23 when they score three runs or less, including Travis Wood 's last three starts. Wood (5-6) was again a hard-luck loser, as he gave up four runs on seven hits. He has dropped three straight games despite having a 2.70 ERA in those contests.
It's tough for the team," Wood said. "We're scratching and clawing trying to get everything we can right now and trying to put together quality ball games.
"We're falling a little short right now, but it's a good group of guys. We're going to eventually get it together and string together some wins."
Molina was happy the Cardinals were able to break through against Wood.
"He beat us in Chicago," Molina said. "Tonight, we executed pretty good.
The Cardinals took a 2-0 lead in the fourth. Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday started the inning with singles, and Beltran then went to third on Craig's long fly out to right. Molina then drove both Beltran and Holiday home with a double to the gap in right center.
St. Louis began the seventh the same way, with Molina and David Freese getting singles. Molina would score on a throwing error by first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Freese came home on Robinson's sacrifice fly.
Craig's sacrifice fly in the eighth gave the Cardinals a 5-1 lead.
NOTES: The Cardinals' Adam Wainwright (10-3) will try to become the Major League's first 11-game winner when he opposes Jeff Samardzija (3-7) in the second game of the series Tuesday. ... Chicago manager Dale Sveum was ejected with one in the seventh inning after arguing with home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn over whether Molina had eluded Wood's tag. "It's a big play in the game at that time," Sveum said. "He blocks the plate and gets there. It's just an out call." St. Louis is 17-7 in the first game of a series. ... Schierholtz has a nine-game hitting streak, equaling his career best.