Cardinals offer up best back-to-back offensive showings in series win over Cubs

Peter Bourjos' speed generated a run on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning Sunday without stealing a base -- one example of the great strides the Cardinals' running game made during the season's first homestand.

Scott Rovak

ST. LOUIS — Two of the Cardinals’ previously slumping sluggers, Allen Craig and Jhonny Peralta, started a second-inning rally that helped the Cardinals to a 6-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

With the Cardinals trailing 2-0, Craig led off the second by walking, Peralta followed with a single and both came home on a two-out single by Matt Carpenter. Kolten Wong then gave the Cardinals a lead they wouldn’t lose when he singled in Carpenter.

Peralta and Craig both had hits in the Cardinals’ two-run eighth as they combined for three runs and an RBI on the day. Matt Holliday reached base four times, including twice on singles, as the Cardinals finished with 11 hits a day after a 13-hit attack led to 10 runs. Despite their best back-to-back offensive showings of the season, they’re not ready to say they’re fully clicking.

"I look at this lineup and I think to myself, ‘When everybody is at their best, man, who are you going to get out?’" Carpenter said. "Right now, some guys aren’t swinging the bat like they’re capable and some guys are in between. Not everybody is clicking on the same page. We’re close, but we’re not there. But it will happen."

The victory gave the Cardinals another series victory, their third in their first four of the season. They begin a 10-game trip to Milwaukee, Washington and the New York Mets on Monday night.

3 UP

— Running game. After not stealing a base on their opening trip, the Cardinals found their running shoes at home. When Carpenter stole second in the second inning, it gave the Cardinals at least one swipe in five of the six games on the homestand. They finished with six total and weren’t caught until Matt Holliday attempted to steal second with two out in the seventh Sunday. After 12 games last season, Daniel Descalso had the team’s only two steals. Kolten Wong leads this season with three, and Peter Bourjos, Holliday and Carpenter each has one.

Bourjos’ speed generated a run in the fourth without stealing a base. He led off with a triple to right, then scored on a fly to relatively shallow left field.

"There’s not many guys you’re going to see score on that one as easy as he did," manager Mike Matheny said.

— Holliday’s eye. Holliday still hasn’t homered and his batting average is only .250, but other numbers show he’s off to a strong start. His on-base percentage is up to .377 after reaching in all four of his plate appearances Sunday, with two singles and two walks. Also, Holliday has more walks than strikeouts (9-8) after 53 plate appearances. He reduced his strikeout rate to a career low last season and has continued that trend early in 2014.

— Brewers bullpen. One reason the Cardinals’ next opponent is off to such a strong start is its pitching. Especially its relief corps. Milwaukee didn’t decide who would be closing until just before Opening Day, but that hasn’t prevented its bullpen from coming together quickly. The Brewers entered Sunday with a 0.83 bullpen ERA, the best in the majors by more than a run. Closer Francisco Rodriguez, deposed closer Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler and lefty Will Smith have yet to allow a run or an inherited runner to score, and all have made at least five appearances.

3 DOWN

— Trevor Rosenthal’s velocity. The Cardinals’ closer reached 100 mph in his first outing of spring training, but he didn’t approach triple digits on the homestand. He worked mostly at 96 mph and topped out at 97 on Sunday. 

How much a slight dip in velocity makes in his effectiveness is arguable, but Rosenthal has allowed runs in back-to-back outings for only the third time in his young career, the first since last July. Rosenthal seemed puzzled when asked about the velo decline, saying he is not one to check the in-stadium radar readings.

"My arm has felt good," he said.


— Early leads. For the second day in a row, the Cardinals’ starter served a long ball in the first inning to give the opposition the early lead. One day after Adam Wainwright allowed a homer on the first pitch of the game, Michael Wacha retired his first batter but then gave up a single to Justin Ruggiano and a home run to Anthony Rizzo. Wacha settled down quickly and allowed only one other run in a 6 1/3-inning outing. Getting at least two strikeouts each on his fastball, change-up and curve, he finished with eight Ks and only one walk. 

"I don’t know how shaky (his first inning) was as much as it was a guy coming out looking for a pitch. He got it and jumped on it," Matheny said. "One of the more impressive things was having a (46-minute rain) delay, staying sharp and coming back out. He’s getting used to that (all three of his starts this season have been affected by weather)."

— Pete Kozma’s roster security. Mark Ellis had a hit for Memphis on Sunday in his first at-bat of what could be a short rehab assignment. Ellis, an 11-year veteran who started the season on the disabled list because of an achy knee, viewed his trip to the minors as a necessary evil and was hoping to make it as short as possible. Matheny said before Sunday’s game that "there’s a chance" Ellis could join the Cardinals in Milwaukee. Once he arrives, Kozma is expected to be sent to Memphis, where he could stay a while.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.