Cubs-Cardinals Preview

After having the NL’s best offense a season ago, the St. Louis Cardinals are having plenty of trouble pushing runs across in 2014.

That’s especially been true when Adam Wainwright takes the mound.

St. Louis looks to avoid a third straight defeat Saturday as Wainwright faces the visiting Chicago Cubs, who are seeking their first back-to-back victories of the season.

The Cardinals (5-5) led the NL in runs and were second in batting average on their way to the World Series in 2013, but they’ve scored only 32 times through their first 10 games after falling 6-3 in 11 innings in Friday’s series opener.

Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina each drove in a run for St. Louis, which has reached double digits in hits just twice. Manager Mike Matheny made a curious decision with runners on first and third and one out in the bottom of the 10th, opting to have reliever Trevor Rosenthal bat rather than lifting him for a pinch-hitter.

Rosenthal struck out in the second at-bat of his career, then allowed a 426-foot, three-run homer to Welington Castillo the following inning.

”You’ve got a real good feeling he’s going to bring us back in with another zero,” Matheny said. ”We had two shots at getting the guy in from second.”

The Cardinals will look to get their offense going to back Wainwright, who has been solid in each of his first two starts despite little run support.

Wainwright (1-1, 1.29 ERA) gave up three hits and struck out nine in a 1-0 win over Cincinnati on March 31 before allowing two runs in seven frames while suffering a tough 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday.

He allowed the deciding run in his final inning.

”I can’t let what happened in the seventh inning happen, especially in a close game,” Wainwright said. ”I walked the leadoff man then left a ball out over the plate with two outs. You can’t do that.”

The Cardinals have mustered up only two runs of offense for Wainwright, who ranked seventh in the NL with a 5.10 run-support average in 2013.

St. Louis provided him with six runs in each of his last two starts against the Cubs, though, when the right-hander gave up one run and struck out 16 over 12 1-3 innings in a pair of wins.

The Cubs (4-6) ended a five-game losing streak to the Cardinals on Friday as Castillo delivered the big blow. Nate Schierholtz led off the 11th with a double to give him his first four-hit game since July 10, 2011, while with San Francisco.

Chicago will look to win two straight for the first time this season as Carlos Villanueva takes the mound.

Villanueva (1-2, 4.26) won his first start of the season Sunday, allowing one run and six hits in five innings of an 8-3 victory over Philadelphia. Each of his losses came in extra-inning relief outings against Pittsburgh on March 31 and April 2.

”I wasn’t happy when that happened (against the Pirates),” Villanueva said. ”I feel like I’ve grown a lot in my years here. You tell me that would have happened to me 5-6 years ago – I don’t know how I would have handled it. Now I have a chance to contribute.”

The right-hander went 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts and three relief appearances last season against the Cardinals. Matt Holliday is 5 for 16 with three homers and three walks lifetime off Villanueva.

Molina is batting .455 (25 for 55) with three homers and 17 RBIs against the Cubs the last two seasons, but he’s just 5 for 25 when facing Villanueva.