CHICAGO -- Opening the season's second half with an exercise in endurance, the Cardinals completed a grueling four-day stay in Chicago still in search of reliable relief.For all the fun the Cardinals had sharing salsa and watching Matt Carpenter make history, their final game of the weekend at Wrigley Field
CHICAGO -- Opening the season's second half with an exercise in endurance, the Cardinals completed a grueling four-day stay in Chicago still in search of reliable relief.
For all the fun the Cardinals had sharing salsa and watching Matt Carpenter make history, their final game of the weekend at Wrigley Field ended in a 7-2 loss that forced a reality check. They are leaving town as a fourth place team, 8 1/2 games behind the Cubs. The Cardinals have the 10th-best record in the National League.
"I mentioned earlier I'm not going to be blindly optimistic, but there are a lot of positive things we can take out of this series," said Mike Shildt, now 3-3 since taking over as interim manager. "There are still some things we're cleaning up. We're in the process of doing it. But I'm optimistic and mostly feel good about the way the guys are competing and the way they're getting after it."
For a surge in the standings to come, the Cardinals will require some stabilization of the bullpen, which is as wobbly now as it's been all season. Despite carrying nine relievers, there remains a lack of sufficient left-handed help. That led Shildt to turn a tie game over to Mike Mayers, knowing the left-handed hitting Kyle Schwarber would come to the plate in the sixth.
Schwarber clobbered a go-ahead home run off the right-hander. The Cubs never trailed again.
"At that point, it's a commitment to Mayers for multiple innings," Shildt said, explaining his choice in matchup. "He showed the ability yesterday to come in, and he's shown the ability at times this season to go through both sides of the lineup."
What went unsaid was that Shildt had few other trustworthy options. Though Schwarber had a 40-percent strikeout rate and not a single homer against a lefty all season, Shildt's two left-handed options have pitched themselves out of high-leverage opportunities.
Tyler Lyons, whom Shildt later said he wanted to stay away from anyway due to usage concerns, entered the day with an 8.82 ERA. Left-handed hitters have posted a .925 OPS against him. Brett Cecil carries an ERA of 5.70.
The Cardinals have discussed pursuing left-handed relief help before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. They also have a pair of lefties -- Tommy Layne and Tyler Webb -- pitching well down in Triple-A. On Sunday, Lyons and Cecil were all Shildt had.
The Cubs feasted off the Cardinals' bullpen all series, scoring 19 runs on 27 hits and 14 walks. Mayers gave up two runs in his two-inning stint, and when Cecil did eventually enter, the Cubs tagged him for three more. That's nine straight games now in which the Cardinals' bullpen has been scored upon.
The Cardinals scored both of their runs early off Cubs starter Jose Quintana, who stretched out to a season-high 121 pitches. Carpenter, who had homered in six straight games, gave the Cards a quick lead by dropping down a leadoff bunt single to foil a shift that featured a four-man outfield. His franchise-record home run streak ended with a 1-for-4 day.
Back with the team following the birth of his twins, Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas frittered away a two-run lead in the fourth. A leadoff walk helped the Cubs stir, and Mikolas' day ended after the fifth when Shildt aggressively pulled him for a pinch-hitter.
"If I don't give up those two runs in the fourth, that's a different ballgame," Mikolas said. "That's why I'm probably going to be upset tonight. I feel like I let them back in the game. They changed momentum. This one's on me."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Sensing that there could be few additional run-scoring chances with the wind whipping in from center field, Shildt decided to play for offense in the sixth when, with two on and two out, he sent Jedd Gyorko up to pinch-hit for Mikolas. Mikolas had thrown just 74 pitches to that point, and Shildt's decision meant the Cards would have to lean heavily on a porous 'pen. Gyorko grounded out to strand both runners, and the Cubs struck soon after.
"Maybe could have made a better decision at that point," Shildt said. "Of course, you're looking at that in hindsight. I've told myself to look at this through a manner in which to manage from aggression, but still making sense. I feel like we've done that. We had a shot there with Jedd to get the lead. … It was hedging one inning for a chance to take a lead, and it didn't work out."
With his first-inning single, Carpenter snapped a string of 12 hits going for extra bases. In total, he reached based 13 times in the series. Anthony Rizzo actually did better; he reached 17 times, including four times on Sunday.
HE SAID IT
"That was unbelievable. The other day he hit the home run [as a pinch-hitter], and I'm out in the outfield just laughing. There's nothing you can do [to stop him]. You just tip your hat. That was an unbelievable display of Babe Ruth. It's a good thing we're not playing more games against him." -- Schwarber, after watching Carpenter go 9-for-17 with six homers, eight runs and 10 RBIs in the series
Playing their sixth game in five days, the Cardinals will call up right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon to make his Major League debut when he starts the club's series opener in Cincinnati on Monday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. CT. Poncedeleon has a 2.15 ERA in Triple-A this season and will be less than 15 months removed from undergoing emergency brain surgery. Right-hander Luis Castillo will start for the Reds.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.