When Jake Westbrook locates his sinker effectively, he can be a formidable force on the mound.
However, when he doesn’t, it’s another matter entirely. Friday afternoon was one of those days. The Cardinals’ sinkerballer walked the first three batters he faced, and all three came around to score, setting the tone for the series opener at the Friendly Confines, with Chicago cruising to a 7-0 win over St. Louis.
His counterpart, Jake Arrieta, continued his recent success in a Cubs’ uniform, tossing seven innings of shutout ball against a St. Louis offense that ranks first in the National League in terms of batting average, on-base percentage, runs, hits and doubles – a testament to how dangerous this club can be. At one point, the right-hander retired 12 straight Cardinal hitters, before issuing a walk to his counterpart in the top of the sixth inning. However, a questionable call that went in favor of the Cubs and a called third strike on Matt Holliday ended the threat, and kept the shutout intact.
Arrieta racked up 94 pitches in seven innings of work, 57 of which found the strike zone. He allowed just two hits, while striking out seven. This mirrors his last start, which came against Milwaukee on July 30, where he threw six innings of two-hit ball, allowing just one run and striking out two.
Outfielder Nate Schierholtz lined a single to center field in the bottom of the first inning, following back-to-back-to-back walks by Westbrook, giving Chicago an early 2-0 lead. Donnie Murphy added on an insurance run shortly thereafter with a single to left field.
The score remained 3-0 in favor of the Cubs until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Schierholtz scored Junior Lake from third via a sacrifice fly to left field. Westbrook’s ability to locate his pitches effectively varied widely throughout the afternoon, as evidenced by his struggles in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The right-hander plunked Donnie Murphy to start things off, before retiring Starlin Castro on a flyout to left field for the first out of the inning. Second baseman Darwin Barney then laced his 21st double of the season over the head of Holliday in left field, scoring Murphy. Barney then advanced to third on a throwing error by the shortstop Daniel Descalso, which quickly evolved into another Cubs run. Arrieta immediately laid down a safety squeeze bunt, scoring Barney, and extending the Cubs’ lead to 6-0 over a St. Louis team that began the day just two games out of first place in the National League Central.
Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny desperately needed Westbrook to eat up some innings, after the team played a 12-inning and 14-inning game in the past three days, and the right-hander gutted out 6 2/3 innings, although quite unsuccessfully. He allowed seven runs, six earned on eight hits, while walking five.
Chicago added another run via a wild pitch by reliever Sam Freeman in the bottom of the seventh, scoring Rizzo from third after he reached via the base-on-balls earlier in the frame.
With the win, the Cubs evened the season-series with St. Louis this season with seven wins apiece this year. The two teams will do battle again tomorrow afternoon at Wrigley Field, with Joe Kelly opposing National League All-Star left-hander Travis Wood.