The St. Louis Cardinals weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders when they ended the regular season, but they looked the part of baseball’s best team in their playoff opener.
They’ll look for Jaime Garcia to continue his impressive comeback campaign and lead them to another victory Saturday against the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the NL division series.
St. Louis finished with baseball’s best record despite struggling down the stretch, losing six of its final nine with shutouts in each of the last three.
The Cardinals found themselves on the right side of a shutout Friday in a 4-0 victory. John Lackey yielded two hits over 7 2-3 innings, while Kevin Siegriest and Trevor Rosenthal recorded all five of their outs on strikeouts.
The dominant pitching performance was hardly a surprise given St. Louis’ major league-best 2.94 ERA during the season, including a 2.99 mark from its starters.
Meanwhile, the Cubs lost for the first time in 10 games going back to Sept. 26. They were hitless through the first five innings and finished with two singles by Kyle Schwarber and another from Addison Russell in their first division series game in 2,561 days.
Chicago had won six of the final nine regular-season meetings while averaging 5.9 runs, scoring eight-plus in two of its last three at St. Louis.
"We could not get anything generated," manager Joe Maddon said. "They’ve pitched really well all season, that’s a big reason they won 100 games."
Jon Lester was also stout for Chicago, surrendering three runs with nine strikeouts in 7 1-3, but the Cubs were 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position. Nos. 3 and 4 hitters Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were 0 for 7 with three strikeouts and both grounded into double plays.
Bryant, Rizzo and Starlin Castro are a combined 0 for 21 with six strikeouts in the first two playoff games. Schwarber and Dexter Fowler have combined for seven of Chicago’s 10 hits.
The Cardinals’ youngsters came through, however, as rookies Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty both homered in the eighth inning, providing some extra cushion on top of Matt Holliday’s first-inning RBI single.
Catcher Yadier Molina was also back in action for the first time since Sept. 20 due to a strained left thumb ligament. He went 0 for 3 but seemed to help the St. Louis staff thrive.
”You can tell he’s been anxious to get in there," manager Mike Matheny said. "The way he moved behind the plate, the way he and John were working, he is so valuable to our club in so many ways."
Garcia (10-6, 2.43 ERA) has a chance to pull St. Louis within one victory of its fifth consecutive NL Championship Series appearance. He’s been a revelation in his comeback from career-threatening thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in July 2014, posting the lowest ERA of his career and the best among the Cardinals’ starters over his 20 outings.
"Every time I take that mound, basically take it as if it’s your last time ever to pitch in a major league game," said Garcia, who is 0-2 with a 4.23 ERA in six career playoff starts.
The left-hander has been particularly reliable at home, going 5-2 with a 1.70 ERA in 10 outings.
This marks his first start in eight days after he gave up two runs over a season-low four innings in a 4-0 loss to Atlanta in his final regular-season turn. He’s 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in six career games against the Cubs but hasn’t faced them since 2012. Castro (4 for 13), Chris Denorfia (2 for 10) and Fowler (0 for 9) are the only current players with more than three at-bats against him.
For the Cubs, Kyle Hendricks (8-7, 3.95) carries a 12-inning scoreless streak into his postseason debut. He has struck out 25 with just two walks over 18 innings spanning his last three starts.
Hendricks is 0-1 with a 3.97 ERA in four starts against St. Louis, and gave up four runs over five innings in the Cubs’ 7-4 road loss May 5.
Chicago has never come back to win a playoff series in which it trailed 0-2, losing all seven times.
"(Saturday’s) a new day. We’ve got Kyle on the mound. If we split this series, it’s all positive," catcher David Ross told MLB’s official website. "Let’s get tomorrow. Then we’ll be even. Then it’s a shorter series, and we get to go home."