Busch-bound Cubs are lowly, but not necessarily pushovers

ST. LOUIS — After being roughed up in a stretch against four likely playoff teams, a series against the lowly Cubs would seem to be just what the Cardinals need to return to their winning ways.

But there are reasons to think this three-game set at Busch Stadium will not be a walkover.

Start with the Cubs’ Friday night starter, Chris Rusin. The 26-year-old Kentuckian is a rookie who doesn’t throw 90 mph but is the type of pitcher who often baffles the Cardinals. That is, he’s a left-hander with whom St. Louis hitters are not familiar. Those qualifications worked well Thursday night for the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu, who gave up only one unearned run in seven innings.

Rusin has made just 11 big league starts — going 3-4 with a 5.40 ERA —and none has come against the Cardinals. He hasn’t faced a single Cardinals hitter in the majors.

The Cardinals have seen plenty of right-hander Carlos Villanueva, who will start Saturday night. Both of his starts against St. Louis this season have qualified as quality, but what makes this game a toss-up is the Cardinals’ starter. The Cardinals have moved back Adam Wainwright and will go with Michael Wacha.

While Wacha showed why he is one of the team’s top two pitching prospects in an earlier call-up, he has not overwhelmed in Triple-A lately. He hasn’t gone more than six innings since he was sent back to Memphis in mid-June, in part because the Cardinals are trying to save some innings for later in the season. Well, it’s later in the season and they need Wacha to step up. Otherwise, more pressure will be on a bullpen that has been taxed during the team’s 21-games-in-20-days stretch.

The Cubs’ Sunday starter, Edwin Jackson, also is well known to the Cardinals, but familiarity doesn’t mean much in his case. In two of his four starts against St. Louis since leaving after the 2011 season, Jackson has not allowed an earned run. But in the other two, he gave up 12 while lasting a total of 6 2/3 innings.

The two teams split a four-game series at Wrigley Field leading into the All-Star Game, but the Cubs since have turned their focus to the future. To add prospects and financial flexibility, they traded top starter Matt Garza and leading slugger Alfonso Soriano.

They have lost nine of their past 11 games, including four straight to Los Angeles before the Dodgers visited Busch Stadium and won three out of four. The Cubs were limited to two or fewer runs in six of the losses, including three shutouts.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.