The contrast between these games served as an effective demonstration of the way that this season has gone for fans of the Redbirds.
The first meeting of these longtime rivals occurred earlier this afternoon. This was Kyle Lohse's long awaited comeback, his first pitching appearance after two months on the disabled list. Unfortunately, in this embarrassing 7-3 loss, Lohse failed to impress, giving up three runs in the first inning, and allowing temperamental Cubs starter, Carlos Zambrano to hit a home run off of him in the fourth.
All and all, Lohse allowed four runs in five innings and seemed to suck all the wind out of the Cardinals' sails.
As usual, the Cardinals' middle relievers didn't help too much, especially not with the always unimpressive Todd Wellemeyer coming in from the bullpen and promptly giving up three runs.
Poor fielding by the infield in this game didn't help their cause. The Cubs scored on errors by both Albert Pujols and Skip Schumaker.
Pujols did get a key hit in the third inning, driving in a couple of runs and Thurston also had a rare good day at the plate, but this offensive spurt didn't do much to help the team. Ludwick continued to hit well, but otherwise, the Cardinals lacked momentum. They seemed to be buried by their atypically poor defensive performance.
However, by their second game, the Cardinals' fortune seemed to magically improve, as they rolled over the Cubs 4-2.
Adam Wainwright started the game and pitched eight great innings, only allowing two runs. Clearly, the way he's been performing lately, Wainwright is severely underrated. With this win, he is tied with a few other All-Star caliber pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Johan Santana for second in wins in the National League.
Ryan Franklin continued to establish himself as the strongest current closer in the National League, striking out the last three Chicago batters, and getting another impressive, lights out save.
Pujols went 0-for-4, which, in most cases, would seem to spell doom for St. Louis.
However, with Ryan Ludwick launching two two-run homers, both of which were hit with Colby Rasmus on base, no further offense was necessary. Ludwick has truly earned his clean-up spot in the Cardinals' lineup, and currently appears to be at least as good as he was last year.
The Cardinals did well dealing with Lou Piniella's unconventional managerial tactics. In the eighth inning, he brought in reliever Sean Marshall, then, after throwing to one batter, moved him to left field, and then, one batter later, brought him back to pitch.
I didn't think such a thing was legal, but apparently, Piniella got away with it. However admirably unconventional this move was, it didn't accomplish anything. The Cubs still weren't able to rally for a victory, and St. Louis closed the first half of their season with a resounding and inspiring win.
After splitting this weekend's series with the Cubs, the Cardinals sit on top of the National League Central. After their city hosts the All-Star festivities for the next couple of days, the Cardinals will next battle the lukewarm Arizona Diamondbacks.
This team still has some things to figure out.
With Mark DeRosa injured, they don't have a steady third baseman or left fielder. They don't seem to know quite where either Todd Wellemeyer, Brad Thompson or Kyle Lohse fit into their pitching rotation.
Still, for now, things seem pretty good in Cardinal nation.