The St. Louis Cardinals will return from an eight-day pandemic break to host the division-leading Chicago Cubs on Friday.
A COVID-19 outbreak within their roster forced the Cardinals to postpone a series at Milwaukee and home-and-home series against the Detroit Tigers.
Meanwhile, the Cubs won six straight to take control of the NL Central race. However, they fell flat Thursday night during a 13-2 road loss to the Kansas City Royals to end their winning streak.
The Cardinals will be without players who tested positive for the coronavirus, including shortstop Paul DeJong and catcher Yadier Molina.
“The void of the layoff and teammates not being on the flight with us, not being with us — that’s a setback,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “But I can tell you this group is really dedicated to each other and to figuring out a way to get through this.”
Kwang Hyun Kim will move from the closer’s role into the rotation to replace Carlos Martinez, who is on the injured list for an undisclosed reason. Right-hander Alex Reyes and lefty Genesis Cabrera joined the active roster to fortify the bullpen, which will fill the closing role by committee.
Infielder Brad Miller came off the injured list to help offset the loss of DeJong. Miller will share third base and designated hitter duty with Matt Carpenter and also back up Tommy Edman at shortstop. Matt Wieters will do the bulk of the catching in Molina’s absence.
The Cardinals will start right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon (0-1, 6.75 ERA) Friday at Busch Stadium after deciding that Jack Flaherty needed more time to rebuild arm strength. Ponce de Leon has pitched one shutout inning against the Cubs during his career.
Flaherty hasn’t pitched since July 24 in a 5-4, season-opening victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. While the team was quarantined in its Milwaukee hotel, Flaherty and Co. tried to prevent rust by throwing into mattresses and pillows.
“We were able to get some baseballs in the hotel and guys were able to keep their arms moving,” Shildt said.
The Cubs will counter with left-hander Jon Lester (0-1, 0.82). He held the Pirates to one run on four hits with a walk and four strikeouts over six innings in a 2-1 victory Sunday.
Lester was 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA in two starts against the Cardinals last season. In his career, he is 8-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 20 starts against St. Louis.
Like the Cardinals, the Cubs hope to find strength in numbers for their late-inning relief needs.
“Every night will be different,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “It’s going to be a full-team effort down there. Those guys, I’m not scared to pull the trigger in a lot of areas with a lot of those guys. So, I’m trying to match those guys up for success. They’ve done a really good job of answering the bell here lately, and we’ll continue to assess on a daily basis.”
In four appearances this season, Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel has allowed seven runs while retiring just eight batters.
“I’m still confident,” Kimbrel said before the Thursday game, in which he allowed a run in one inning of mop-up duty. “I still know I can go out there and get outs. It’s just, the bottom line is going out there and doing it. I still think I can do that. I think with the trust that Rossy’s put in me so far — he’s stuck with me — we’re going to work through this, and things are going to be all right.”
–Field Level Media