Madrigal's hot bat not enough to reignite rivalry with Cards

September 3rd, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs aren’t having the kind of season to stoke one of the game’s best rivalries. They came into Friday night’s game at Busch Stadium 19 games under .500 and having lost 10 of their first 16 games to their rivals from the other side of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals are coming off one of the best Augusts in club history and are enjoying their biggest division lead this late in a season since 2009.

While the Cubs would have loved to throw a little salt in the Cardinals’ champagne, they certainly couldn’t pull it off Friday. Chicago lost 8-0 at Busch Stadium after a late barrage of power from St. Louis.

Afterward, Cubs pitcher Adrian Sampson spoke about his own pitching, but it also applied to how his team would like to play in the final two games of this series, the last Chicago-St. Louis games of 2022.

“You get backed into these corners, you just have to fight to get out,” Sampson said. “As soon as you start to give in, the other team can kind of smell fear, and they just attack.”

For the Cubs, the remainder of this season is mostly about figuring out which players on their roster will be fits for the long term, and one name is becoming increasingly appealing: Nick Madrigal. Since returning from the injured list Aug. 4, Madrigal has been the hitter they hoped he would grow into, with a .310 batting average and .383 on-base percentage in 23 games, and batting mostly in the leadoff spot.

Madrigal, who played with Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson and was coached by Carlson’s dad at their Sacramento high school, did his best to create action in the early innings. He reached base in his first two at-bats, including on a perfectly placed bunt single, but the Cubs who hit behind him couldn’t move him around the bases to score.

The Cubs began the game with a promising rally, as Madrigal and Seiya Suzuki each reached base on ground ball singles up the middle, with Suzuki’s ticking off Tommy Edman’s glove, leaking into center field and allowing Madrigal to reach third base. However, Nolan Arenado made one of his trademark brilliant plays, fielding Franmil Reyes’ chopper behind the third-base bag and firing it over Madrigal. The ball hit Yadier Molina’s mitt just in time for him to lay down the tag at home plate.

The Cubs didn’t score that inning after Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner both struck out against lefty Jordan Montgomery, the Cardinals’ main Trade Deadline acquisition (from the Yankees).

That early wasted opportunity proved costly to the Cubs the following half-inning, when the Cardinals grabbed a two-run lead on Tyler O’Neill’s two-out single to left field that scored Brendan Donovan and Paul Goldschmidt.

They also wasted a bases-loaded chance in the third inning when Happ hit into an inning-ending double play.

It was another rough go against the Cards for Sampson, who needed to throw 40 pitches to get through that first inning. In three starts against St. Louis this season, Sampson has a 6.08 ERA, has allowed 16 hits and four walks and has nine strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. To his credit, despite a rough first two innings -- in which six Cardinals’ batters reached base safely -- he was able to get through five frames. He said the damp conditions, with high humidity and intermittent light rain, contributed to some difficulty gripping the ball and that his mechanics felt out of sync.

“I thought he was just up and flat early on,” manager David Ross said.

The game briefly turned into a pitching duel after the first inning before the Cards started scoring again in the sixth, this time off the Cubs’ bullpen. Corey Dickerson had a two-out RBI hit for the Cardinals off Javier Assad to drive in O’Neill and make it 3-0 St. Louis. Lars Nootbaar hit a two-run home run off Sean Newcomb in the seventh for the knockout blow. Tommy Edman’s three-run shot the following inning off Newcomb made it 8-0.

The Cubs, too, tried to stage a late rally, but St. Louis’ bullpen proved more stout. After P.J. Higgins and Yan Gomes both singled to lead off the seventh inning, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol removed Montgomery, but reliever Jordan Hicks struck out the side -- Zach McKinstry, Madrigal and Suzuki -- with an assortment of pitches including an 89.3 mph slider and 102.2 mph sinker.