The Cubs put together another all around effort on Thursday night, and the latest victim of the improved play of the North Siders was the St. Louis Cardinals. Edwin Jackson continued his attempt at a season turnaround, tossing seven shutout innings of three hit ball. It was also the first time that the free agent signing had gone a game without allowing a run or a walk. Throw in five strikeouts and it was certainly a gem of an effort from Jackson, who improved to 6-10 on the season. In fact, the righty has gone 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his last three starts. A solid second half to the 2013 season should relieve fans and critics alike of the $52 million splash by the Cubs front office this past off season. The shutout is also refreshing considering the Cubs were bloodied and bruised by the Angels 13-2 the night before.
The Cubs offense did not provide a power highlight reel that fans have been accustomed to in recent days, but Anthony Rizzo provided all of the offense and then some that Jackson would need Thursday evening. Rizzo hit a RBI double in the first to stake his pitcher to an early 1-0 lead, driving in Starlin Castro who had singled ahead of him. Rizzo provided the insurance runs a couple innings later by punching a single the opposite way through a drawn in Cardinals infield to make the score 3-0 in favor of the home team. Luis Valbuena had walked to lead off the bottom of the third, and Castro had another single, with both runners advancing a base thanks to a Jake Westbrook wild pitch. It was good to see Rizzo and the Cubs capitalize on the walk and Westbrook mistake.
It was also a positive sign seeing Castro and Rizzo, the proclaimed cornerstone of the near future contending Cubs, teaming up to lead the offense. Castro finished with a 3 for 4 day with two runs scored, while Rizzo’s contributions have been well noted above. The young duo combined to offset an 0 for 4 night from Alfonso Soriano, the veteran slugger who had been carrying the Cubs offense in recent games.
The league leading Cardinals threatened in both the eighth and ninth innings, making sure that this would be no easy win for the Cubs as the shut out suggests. Blake Parker allowed a hit and a walk sandwiched around a strikeout, to put two runners on and allow the batter to represent the tying run. But James Russell and Pedro Strop came in for one batter a piece to pick up their young bullpen mate, with Strop ending the inning by striking out Carlos Beltran. Closer Kevin Gregg made things interesting in the ninth when he dropped the ball while covering first for what would have been the second out. Rizzo had made a Web Gem worthy diving stop to his right, but Gregg could not handle the toss with the runner bearing down on first base. Gregg compounded the tight situation by walking David Freese, but he got Jon Jay to line out to Soriano to end the game. Gregg picked up his 16th save in 18 tries and dropped his ERA to 1.72.