Even after Pujols, Cardinals still running like a machine

Even after Pujols, Cardinals still running like a machine
April 16, 2012, 2:31 am
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ST. LOUIS After Paul Maholm gave up a bomb to Albert Pujols in spring training, he joked that there was a reason why no American League West teams were on his wish list as a free agent.

The Cubs werent in the market for a megadeal last winter. They bought low on guys like Maholm, a veteran left-hander who had spent his entire career in the Pirates organization.

The plan was to collect enough starting pitchers so that the 2012 Cubs could have a chance every night, while Theo Epsteins front office built the infrastructure for a perennial contender.

With Sundays 10-3 loss at Busch Stadium, the Cubs are 3-7 after two turns through the rotation. Pujols wasnt here for the banner raising or ring ceremony over the weekend, part of a power play by the Angels to gain ground in Southern California.

But its clear that the Cardinals are still running like a machine, even with a first-year manager (Mike Matheny) replacing a legend (Tony La Russa).

Maholm didnt have to face Pujols whos 22-for-39 (.564) for his career against the left-hander or World Series heroes Lance Berkman and David Freese, who both sat out on Sunday.

Instead, Maholm watched Yadier Molina hammer a 3-2 pitch 359 feet beyond the wall in left for a three-run homer that made it 6-0 in the third inning. The Cubs dont have the lineup to win those high-scoring games often.

Maholm hit two batters, walked another and gave up six runs in four innings, running his ERA to 13.50.

Yeah, obviously, Id much rather be 2-0 with a zero right now, Maholm said. But thats not how it is. Im going to learn from it.

Its a long season. Im going to get it going. And all these guys in here are busting it and expecting to win and thats how were going to do it.

Or, as manager Dale Sveum said, It wasnt real pretty again.

Maholm will make 4.25 million this season (the Cubs hold an option for 2013). He hasnt won a game since July 10 of last season, when he beat the Cubs (a streak skewed in part because he was shut down with a shoulder issue).

The Cubs took a game on Friday against Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals ace still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but were outscored 15-4 the next two games in front of sellout crowds.

Its such a great baseball atmosphere, said Cubs utility man Joe Mather, who came up through the Cardinals system. You cant deny that, no matter what team youre on. Even once the games over, you go try to get some food and theres red everywhere.

Coming into St. Louis, where were not fan favorites, its always nice to come in and play close games. I think were probably just a little more disappointed we arent playing as competitive a game as we think we can.

The Cardinals (7-3) didnt have a problem with the back end of the Cubs rotation Maholm or Chris Volstad and they exposed the gap in the National League Central.

We just got to do things a little bit better, Sveum said. We got to make our pitches when we have to and stay away from slugging percentage. We didnt do that too well in this series. Even though they didnt hit a lot of home runs, there were a lot of doubles and triples with guys on base.

Even without Pujols, the World Series champs are going to defend their title.