Cardinals-Cubs Preview

(AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation has done an excellent job so far, which could be even more important with two big bats out of the lineup.

The Cardinals will try for a third straight win over the Chicago Cubs on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field.

Led by a rotation boasting a 2.75 ERA, St. Louis is off to a promising start with one of the best records in the NL.

The Cardinals (11-5) took two of three from Pittsburgh over the weekend, bouncing back from Saturday’s 2-0 loss with a 5-1 victory Sunday. Kyle Lohse pitched into the eighth inning and David Freese drove in two runs.

St. Louis has won all five of its series this season, also winning the season opener at Miami.

“That’s what you try to do, you try to win series,” Freese said. “You want to sweep, but that’s obviously not going to happen all the time. Consistency, that’s the name of this game, and we’re doing that pretty well right now.”

The success of the rotation has taken a lot of pressure off the lineup. While St. Louis leads the NL with a .281 batting average and is scoring 5.1 runs per game, it placed slugger Lance Berkman on the disabled list Friday and Jon Jay could join him soon. Jay is hitting .349 this season and Berkman .348.

Jay sprained his shoulder Thursday after running into the center-field wall. His only appearance over the weekend was as a pinch-runner Saturday. He was to fly back to St. Louis for tests and is not expected to play this series.

The Cardinals, who split six games at Wrigley Field last season, took two of three at home against the Cubs from April 13-15.

Chicago (4-12) has yet to win a series after dropping two of three at home to Cincinnati over the weekend, losing the finale 4-3.

The Cubs, losers of seven of eight overall, made seven errors in the three-game set, including two Sunday by catcher Geovany Soto.

One of the bright spots continues to be shortstop Starlin Castro, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He had two hits, including a triple, and scored twice Sunday.

“We battled and got on base,” manager Dave Sveum said. “We just couldn’t get that big hit.”

The Cardinals will hand the ball to Jaime Garcia (2-0, 3.06 ERA), who is coming off his strongest outing of the season. He allowed one run in seven innings of an 11-1 victory against the Reds on Wednesday.

It was the second time in three starts Garcia received eight runs of support. The left-hander led the NL with a 5.92 run-support average in 2011 while winning 13 games.

Garcia went 2-0 with a 2.11 ERA in three starts against the Cubs last season.

Chicago will counter with Matt Garza (1-1, 3.66), who gave up six runs and surrendered a pair of two-run homers in five-plus innings of a 9-1 loss at Miami on Wednesday.

Garza had allowed two runs in 14 2-3 innings in his previous two starts.

While he’s faltered on the road, Garza continues to pitch well at Wrigley. He’s made 13 straight starts there without allowing more than three earned runs, going 5-3 with a 1.79 ERA during that stretch.

The right-hander defeated the Cardinals twice in Chicago last season, allowing one run in 12 innings.