ST. LOUIS – The Cubs can interpret it as a sign of disrespect, but they would be doing the exact same thing if they were playing games that actually mattered in August and September.
A franchise coming off a 101-loss season in the middle of a multi-year rebuilding project has to earn it.
The St. Louis Cardinals restored order with Sunday’s 8-4 victory in front of 43,240 fans at Busch Stadium. They wore out Edwin Jackson (5.05 ERA) and the Cubs bullpen by knocking out 13 hits and going 4-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
The Cardinals (67-50) skipped Adam Wainwright over the weekend and saved their ace for Tuesday night’s showdown here against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That didn’t go unnoticed in the Cubs clubhouse.
“You take anything like that personal,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “They’re doing what they think they need to do, being in a pennant race and all that. But obviously the guys in that locker room take it to heart that they’re kind of saying that we’re not a very good team and we’re going to get by you with this guy.
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“It’s a competitive nature in anybody to take that to heart.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers had done the same thing, holding back Zack Greinke so he’d pitch at Busch Stadium last week instead of Wrigley Field. The Dodgers didn’t need their other Cy Young winner, Clayton Kershaw, to complete a four-game sweep on the North Side.
Still, the Cubs (52-65) managed to win their first series at Busch Stadium in almost three years and split a six-game road trip through Philadelphia and St. Louis.
As Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney – who went 2-for-4 with two RBI – said: “We’re trying to prove we’re a better team than our record shows.”
The night before, Barney had delivered a late, clutch hit in a 6-5 win over the Cardinals. It was the kind of game the Cubs seemed to lose here the past few years.
Afterward, Barney admitted the Cubs get up for the Cardinals and acknowledged they had discussed the Wainwright decision in the clubhouse.
But in the big picture, Barney said: “They have enough to get them going, rather than a little comment I (made) that was very underplayed for what went down.”
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These final seven weeks will be about finishing strong before the front office makes hard decisions this winter. Sveum knows fans want someone other than Barney (.215 average) in big spots, but the manager is going with his guy (while realizing there aren’t many other options).
“You hear it,” Sveum said, “(but) it’s hard for me to ever (pinch-hit for him) because the guy gives you a battle up there. He’ll put the ball in play (and) he’s gotten some big hits for us (and been) as big as anybody in those situations.
“You know he’s going to battle. (Facing) velocity, he’ll foul it off and put it in play and give you a great at-bat.”
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The Cubs return home for a 10-game homestand that begins Monday night, when Da Bears, Camp Trestman and meaningless preseason exhibitions will be the lead sports story in Chicago. Wainwright or not, the Cubs know it’s a long road ahead before every pitch matters against the Cardinals again.
“Rivalries are what they are, but it comes down to (having) a team that’s got a chance of winning series all the time,” Sveum said. “The bottom line is putting yourself in a situation where you leave spring training to win 90-plus games.”