ST. LOUIS — The Cubs were three outs away from heading to Busch Stadium on a rare four-game winning streak Sunday afternoon.
Then came Carlos Marmol. There went the Cubs’ momentum.
Marmol gave up four runs on two homers while getting only one out — that on a sacrifice — to turn a 3-0 lead into a 4-3 walk-off loss against the lowly Mets.
Even normally soft-spoken left fielder Alfonso Soriano had to vent.
“We needed that game to go to St. Louis with confidence,” he told reporters. “Three outs left and we lost the game. It’s unacceptable, especially when we’re winning 3-0 and (Matt) Garza’s pitching very good.”
Don’t look for Marmol in the ninth again anytime soon, certainly not in St. Louis. He was called on Sunday only because manager Dale Sveum did not want to work Kevin Gregg for a fifth straight day. Gregg has capably filled the Cubs’ need for a closer, going 9 for 9 in save chances with a 0.83 ERA.
As poorly as Marmol has pitched in the ninth, he otherwise has been effective. In non-save situations, he has a 2.79 ERA. In save situations, 14.73.
For the most part, Cubs pitching has been better than expected. Chicago starters rank seventh in the N.L. with a 3.78 ERA, nearly a run better than last year’s 4.52.
Monday night starter Travis Wood, who beat the Cardinals last month, has a 2.65 ERA in 13 starts. He faces rookie Shelby Miller, who has gone 2-2 with a 3.02 ERA in six starts since his one-hit shutout over the Rockies.
Opening day starter Jeff Samardzija, who will oppose Adam Wainwright on Tuesday, has struggled in his last two starts but still holds a respectable 3.46 ERA.
Right-hander Scott Feldman, signed to a one-year, $6 million deal, leads the team with a 6-5 record and has a 3.05 ERA. Feldman, who will oppose Lance Lynn in Thursday’s series finale, has given the Cubs a boost at the plate, too. The former Rangers starter, who was 3 for 18 coming into the season, leads N.L. pitchers with eight RBIs. Wood is second, with seven, to go with two homers.
Only Edwin Jackson has not pitched up to expectations for the Cubs. He is 3-8 with a 5.40 ERA after signing a four-year, $52 million contract. Jackson will start against Jake Westbrook on Wednesday night.
The Cubs, expected to bring up the rear in the NL Central, enter the week in fourth place, a half-game ahead of the Brewers. Chicago has played better lately, winning 10 of its past 19 games. The Cubs’ main struggles have come within the division, where they are 8-21. Against everyone else, they’re 20-18.
Nate Schierholtz, in his first season since 2010 as a regular, has emerged as the Cubs’ most deserving All-Star. He leads the team’s regulars with a .296 batting average and already has matched his career-best with nine homers. Waiver pickup Cody Ransom also has provided a lift at third base, hitting seven homers in 26 games to go with a .288/.373/.644 line.
Their young and promising infielders — first baseman Anthony Rizzo (.245), second baseman Rex Barney (.214) and shortstop Starlin Castro (.241) — have not hit up to expectations, though Rizzo has produced 10 homers.
Center fielder David DeJesus will not be available after going on the disabled list Saturday. Ryan Sweeney and Julio Borbon figure to get most of the at-bats in his absence.
The teams will play another four-game set leading into the All-Star break at Wrigley Field. Then they will meet in three other series after the break, including a three-game set at Busch Stadium to close the regular season.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.