Carpenter leaves Cardinals camp with continued neck issues

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Carpenter leaves Cardinals camp with continued neck issues

Bad news for the Cardinals: Chris Carpenter's neck hasn't improved, and the righty is flying back to St. Louis to have his symptoms -- which stem from a bulging disc -- examined.

While he hasn't been ruled out yet, it looks unlikely that Carpenter will be active for Opening Day. Lance Lynn is expected to slide into the rotation for however many starts Carpenter will miss. The 24-year-old pitched exclusively in relief with the Cardinals last year but did start 12 games in Triple-A, posting a 3.84 ERA with 64 strikeouts, 25 walks and two home runs allowed.

In his career, Carpenter has started 25 games against the Cubs with a 3.05 ERA while allowing a .702 OPS to opponents.

Preview: Cubs look to snap losing streak vs. Cardinals on CSN

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Preview: Cubs look to snap losing streak vs. Cardinals on CSN

The Cubs look to snap a three-game losing streak against the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (5-1, 2.31 ERA) vs. Michael Wacha (2-4, 4.03 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Cardinals ‘irrelevant’ when Cubs need to start playing their game again after third straight loss

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Cardinals ‘irrelevant’ when Cubs need to start playing their game again after third straight loss

ST. LOUIS – Fireworks went off at Busch Stadium late Monday night, the St. Louis Cardinals rushing from their dugout and forming a mosh pit at home plate, a familiar scene during those long rebuilding years for the Cubs.   

Eliminating the Cardinals from the playoffs last October changed the feel of the rivalry, and so did stealing John Lackey and Jason Heyward away from a 100-win team, plus all the hype that surrounded Camp Maddon and the best start in baseball.     

But there was Randal Grichuk with two outs in the ninth inning against Cubs reliever Adam Warren, blasting a walk-off homer 382 feet over the right-field fence and into the St. Louis bullpen for a 4-3 victory and a reminder that the Cardinals are still the defending division champs. 

“It’s a long season,” Lackey said. “They’re a good team. They’ll be fine. We got to worry about ourselves, man. They’re kind of irrelevant. If we play our game, we’ll be OK.”  

Grichuk wouldn’t have been in position to get the ice shower during the postgame on-field TV interview if Lackey hadn’t given up a two-out, two-run, game-tying homer to pinch-hitter Matt Adams in the seventh inning, ruining what had been a dominant start to that point. 

But the Cardinals (24-21) are known for pouncing on mistakes here, even as a third-place team that hasn’t been playing up to the franchise’s usual standards. After losing three in a row for the first time this season – and eight of their last 12 – the Cubs now have a six-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central.   

“We need to play better, 100 percent,” said Lackey, who gave up three runs in seven innings. “But ‘worry’ I think is a strong word. We’re doing OK.” 

The Cubs (29-14) had their chance in the ninth inning against St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal. With runners on the corners and one out, Anthony Rizzo got jammed on a 97-mph fastball and popped a ball toward third base. Matt Carpenter dove forward and made the catch. With Dexter Fowler already breaking for home plate, Carpenter crawled toward third base and tapped the bag with his glove for the double play.

That symbolized some of the frustration and bad luck for Rizzo, who had pointed to the sky after a broken-bat RBI single off Adam Wainwright in the fifth inning, snapping a 1-for-27 streak and giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead. 

This isn’t the same team when Rizzo’s not producing and Heyward’s sidelined and young hitters like Jorge Soler and Addison Russell are still making adjustments.   

“We just slowed down a little bit offensively,” said Ben Zobrist, speaking for the rest of the group after a 3-for-4 night extended his streak of reaching base safely in each of his last 29 starts. “We’re just having a harder time squaring the ball up and that’s the way it goes sometimes. We just got to work through it and battle.

“It is frustrating a little bit, but it’s still so early, We weren’t thinking too high of ourselves. We know it’s a long season. We just got to get back to the grind again.” 

The Cubs were never going to score eight runs every night and sustain a .700-plus winning percentage for an entire season. If there are signs of frustration, the Cubs kept them hidden inside the visiting clubhouse.

“You try and minimize these spots,” Zobrist said. “We talked about this at the beginning of the season. We knew there was going to be some lulls. We got hot at the beginning and now we’ve gotten cold the last couple weeks. So we have to find the middle ground and get back to playing good baseball.”  

Of course, manager Joe Maddon played it cool inside his office while talking with reporters, projecting calm for the cameras. There are no trades for hitters to be made overnight and Simon the Magician isn’t walking through that door, either. But the Cardinals are still coming and the Cubs will have to ride this out.   

“As long as they come ready to play every day, I know we’ll get back on another good run,” Maddon said. “And then eventually this will be a thing of the past. It’s inevitable.”

GM Jed Hoyer: Cubs plan to be in the market for more pitching

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GM Jed Hoyer: Cubs plan to be in the market for more pitching

ST. LOUIS – Tyson Ross hasn’t thrown a pitch for the San Diego Padres since making his Opening Day start – in a 15-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers – and going on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

Carlos Carrasco has already been sidelined for a month with a strained hamstring, though the Cleveland Indians are above .500 and have enough pitching to think they could compete in the American League Central.

The Oakland A’s are starting to look like they could become sellers. But Sonny Gray just went on the disabled list with a strained right trapezius – and a 6.19 ERA – and it’s unclear how willing Billy Beane would be to give up an asset with three more seasons of club control. 

All these supply-and-demand forces mean the Cubs could find themselves in a difficult position if they’re looking for another frontline starter this summer. 

“We’ll keep evaluating where we are and what we need,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday at Busch Stadium. “As far as the starting-pitching market, there are a lot of things that are going to happen. Teams are going to fall out of contention. Teams are going to get into contention. So I don’t think it’s quite the time yet where that’s crystallized at all. 

“But obviously we’ll keep monitoring it, keep studying it. We’re aware that pitching in general is something that every team needs around the deadline. And I’m sure we’ll be in that group. 

“We’ll keep working hard to figure out where it’s going to come from.”

The answers probably aren’t going to come from within, at least not by the trade deadline and not for the rotation, because as good as the Cubs have been at finding hitters and building major-league staffs, the farm system doesn’t have high-end pitching talent at the upper levels yet.

But the Cubs began the season by getting at least five innings from their starter for 40 straight games – a streak snapped over the weekend at AT&T Park – and headed into this three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals with dazzling rotation numbers (23-10, 2.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP).

The Cubs aren’t going to overreact to Sunday night’s 1-0 loss to San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner on national TV.

“We’re going to score runs,” Hoyer said. “We’re in a small slump right now, (but) we’re going to score runs. If we can keep pitching like this, we put ourselves in a position to win almost every night.”

It’s not only about sustaining this level of performance and taking out insurance against injuries and upgrading for October. 

Stephen Strasburg’s recent seven-year, $175 million extension with the Washington Nationals removed the top pitcher from a weak crop of free agents. And the Cubs, in essence, already spent their money this past offseason by combining two winters into one. 

This could be an opportunity to also improve the 2017 and 2018 teams, but the price to acquire pitching will skyrocket again around the trade deadline. 

“Everyone has discussed this year’s coming free-agent class,” Hoyer said. “In general, that’s going to be a class that’s not as robust (as) it has been in some years. Everyone knows that. Both with the deadline and over this next winter, I think that’s going to have an impact on people’s behavior.”