Cardinals look to close with win over Cubs heading into playoffs

National Sports

The surging St. Louis Cardinals will host the rebuilding Chicago Cubs on Sunday in the Cardinals’ final tuneup for the National League wild-card game on Wednesday.

The teams split the first two contests of this three-game series at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals (90-71) posted a 4-3 victory Friday before the Cubs (70-91) rallied for a 6-5 win the following day.

The Cardinals, who have won 19 of their past 21 games and will face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the San Francisco Giants in the wild-card game, will start right-hander Jake Woodford (3-3, 3.88 ERA) in their regular-season finale. Woodford stepped into the injury-depleted Cardinals’ starting rotation and filled the No. 5 slot.

Woodford is 1-0 with a 1.90 ERA in five September outings. He said the team’s late surge — featuring excellent defense and consistent run production — allowed him to pitch with confidence.

“It’s more of just a comfort in knowing that we have such an elite defense behind us, that you can be aggressive in the zone, that even if you give up some contract, they are going to make plays behind us,” Woodford said.

“We never feel like we’re out of it. That’s why I think it’s important for the staff to just go out there and do your job and try to keep it as close as you can because our offense is so hot right now and we do have such a great defense. As long as we’re putting ourselves in a position to win, we feel very confident we’re going to get the job done.”

Last Sunday, Woodford held the Cubs to two runs on six hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings. He is 1-0 with a 3.31 ERA in five career appearances (two starts) against Chicago.

Rafael Ortega (3-for-4), Sergio Alcantara (2-for-3, double, homer, two RBIs) and Willson Contreras (4-for-8, doubles, two homers) have fared well in small sample sizes versus Woodford.

The Cubs will turn to Alec Mills (6-7, 5.09 ERA), who is bidding for a spot in the team’s 2022 rotation. He struggled as a reliever earlier this season, posting a 6.21 ERA in 12 outings.

In his first 11 starts after moving from the bullpen, Mills posted a 3.35 ERA for the Cubs. But he has struggled down the stretch, going 0-1 with a 7.82 ERA in five September starts.

“To be honest, this is one of the worst stretches of pitching I’ve ever had,” Mills said. “It’s frustrating.”

Mills lost his only start against St. Louis this season. He allowed five runs (one earned) on six hits and two walks in four innings of an 8-3 setback on July 19. Mills is 0-2 with a 4.22 ERA in six career appearances (four starts) versus the Cardinals.

Tommy Edman (6-for-8, two doubles, RBI), Yadier Molina (3-for-6) and Matt Carpenter (3-for-11, two homers, five RBIs) have had success against Mills, while Paul Goldschmidt (1-for-9), Harrison Bader (1-for-7) and Paul DeJong have not.

The Cubs moved reliever Tommy Nance to the injured list for an unspecified reason, reportedly connected to the team’s COVID-19 protocol issues. The team promoted Joe Biagini to replace him.

Contreras left Saturday night’s game in the third inning with hip tightness and is questionable for the season finale.

For the Cardinals, reliever Genesis Cabrera is questionable due to a chronic fingernail problem. That issue cut short his relief outing Saturday.

–Field Level Media

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