By Fred Mitchell
The Cubs may be in rebuilding mode, but improving to .500 by the end of this season might not be too far-fetched.
Despite Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Cardinals, the Cubs are inching their way back to respectability in arguably the toughest division in baseball.
“Obviously it’s realistic. We’re only [nine] games away from it right now,” manager Dale Sveum said. “It takes sometimes a couple of weeks to roll off a really, really good streak. We can do that with the starting pitching we have.”
Carlos Villanueva did his part Friday at Wrigley Field, allowing two runs on four hits over six innings. And relievers Matt Guerrier, Pedro Strop, Michael Bowden and James Russell kept the Cubs in position to win.
But Cardinals starter Joe Kelly earned his first victory of the season, and Carlos Beltran went 3-for-4 with an RBI.
The Cubs are 11-20 in one-run games this season, an obvious area that needs improvement.
“Those [hot] streaks that [Anthony] Rizzo or [Starlin] Castro are taking could contribute to it. Our big guys have to keep swinging the bat and drive in some big runs to do something like [improve to .500],” Sveum said.
Castro went 2-for-3 with a home run Friday. It was his second straight multi-hit game.
“I feel pretty good; I feel aggressive,” Castro said. “I feel like I can trust myself. Good things are going to be happening.”
The Cubs got off to a rough start when the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Beltran hit an RBI triple into the right field corner to score Matt Carpenter before Allen Craig drove him in with a base hit as the infield was drawn in.
“I thought I came out well, but I just couldn’t put those two guys away. I had Carpenter with two strikes and then Beltran …” Villanueva said. “I just didn’t execute the pitches. After that, we settled down.”
Villanueva (2-5) retired the last 12 batters he faced and turned in his sixth quality start of the year after throwing 90 pitches.
“Everything got much sharper [after the first], and he did a great job,” Sveum said.
The Cardinals took a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning after pinch-hitter Rob Johnson hit a two-out triple to right off reliever Matt Guerrier that Nate Schierholtz could not catch as he laid out for it. Carpenter then followed with an RBI double to left-center.
“We had two outs and nobody on, and unfortunately he dove for a ball that he couldn’t catch,” Sveum said.
Castro’s sixth home run of the season to lead off the eighth gave the Cubs life as they closed to within one run. The Cubs lead the National League with 295 extra-base hits.
“I am looking for the fastball every time,” Castro said. “I know I can hit the ball to every part of the field.”