Starting pitching. Veteran hitters. Dependable relievers. The St. Louis Cardinals have it all, so all this success on the road is no accident.
Carlos Beltran and Jon Jay drove in two runs apiece, and the Cardinals capped an impressive trip with a 5-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday.
Beltran also had three hits as St. Louis won for the seventh time in eight games and improved to a major league-best 14-7 on the road. The Cardinals went 5-1 on a six-game swing to Milwaukee and Chicago, with the lone loss Tuesday in their first game of the season against the last-place Cubs.
"We've been an opportunistic team," manager Mike Matheny said. "We make the most of the opportunities that we're getting, even though they're not that many right now. And then they're resilient, they just keep coming back."
The Cardinals trailed 4-3 before Beltran singled in Matt Carpenter in the seventh, and Jay drove in Yadier Molina with a tiebreaking single against Michael Bowden (1-2) in the eighth. Each rally featured a costly mistake by the Cubs, with Carpenter moving to third on an error by right fielder Nate Schierholtz and Molina advancing to second on a wild pitch.
Jay also had a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning and hit .500 (10 for 20) with a homer and eight RBIs on the trip. The center fielder has been playing so well that Matheny decided to move him up to sixth in the lineup, pushing struggling David Freese down one. The lineup switch also provided more protection for Molina, who responded with two hits.
"I'm just trying to keep it simple up there," Jay said. "Trying to hit the ball hard, and I've been able to get some pitches over the plate that I've been able to drive."
Anthony Rizzo had three hits and Schierholtz ripped a two-run double for Chicago, trying for its second three-game winning streak this season. Instead, the Cubs finished a 4-6 homestand.
"We just can't seem to shut anybody down in the sixth, seventh inning," manager Dale Sveum said. "We're getting two strikes on people, we just can't make a pitch when we have to."
Chicago had 11 hits but grounded into four double plays, one in every inning from the fifth to the eighth. The last one was particularly heartbreaking, with the potential tying run on third.
Four Cardinals relievers combined for 3 2-3 innings of two-hit ball after Jake Westbrook had his worst start this season. Seth Maness (2-0) got five outs to get the win and Edward Mujica worked the ninth for his ninth save in nine opportunities.
"They did a great job," Westbrook said. "They got into a little trouble, but then they found ways to get out of it."
The afternoon game on a picturesque spring day in Chicago attracted 26,354 to Wrigley Field, and fans were treated to a little bit of everything. There were a couple of adventures on the basepaths, a rarely seen 4-2-3 groundout and a bunch of singles — just three of 22 hits were for extra bases. Julio Borbon of the Cubs was called out for interference for running inside the baseline in the seventh.
The Cubs used Schierholtz's two-run double, which caromed off the wall in foul territory and straight out into right field, and a well-placed grounder by Dioner Navarro to take a 4-2 lead in the fourth.
The Cardinals had their infield in with Navarro at the plate, but Schierholtz scored easily. With Molina standing in front of the plate and pointing to first, Carpenter still came home with the throw from second, and the Gold Glove catcher made a strong throw to first to retire the lumbering Navarro.
Molina also cut down Rizzo when the big first baseman tried to steal third following his two-out RBI double in the first. But the Cardinals had their own baserunning blunder in the fifth, when Carpenter was thrown out after he made a wide turn at second on Beltran's run-scoring single.
Westbrook allowed four runs — three earned — and nine hits in 5 1-3 innings, increasing his ERA from 1.07 to 1.62. He had allowed just four earned runs all year.
"I was battling my location today," he said. "Kind of fighting pretty much all day."
Carlos Villanueva pitched 6 2-3 innings for Chicago and was charged with three runs and seven hits. He has a 3.02 ERA in seven starts, but only one victory.
"You can see the boys coming alive now. The weather is warming up a little bit. We're right there," Villanueva said. "We're close. Keep chipping away."