CHICAGO – As if the rivalry of the Cubs and Cardinals wasn’t already hot enough, the Cardinals heated up Wrigley Field in the first game of this weekend’s four-game series with a trio of homers and leaving the Northsiders wondering what is wrong with their bullpen.

The NL Central anointed quickly became the annoyed as the division’s preseason favorites went through six pitchers, trying to find an answer for the St. Louis bats.

The Cardinals, who lead the National League in runs scored, tallied 12 hits including homers by Chris Duncan, Khalil Greene and Brian Barden, and saw Brendan Ryan and Rick Ankiel both finish with doubles.

St. Louis even gave Chicago a few extra chances in the form of three errors – two on one play when Duncan had a fly ball hit off the heel of his glove and then threw the ball away allowing runners to advance.

But much of the credit should be given to winning pitcher Adam Wainwright. Despite laboring through six innings and watching his pitch count climb rapidly, Wainwright got out of a bases-loaded jam in the same inning that saw the two errors by Duncan and Ryan.

After Aramis Ramirez reached on a single and he and Mike Fontenot advanced to third and second respectively on the errors, Wainwright sat down Geovany Soto and intentionally walked Ryan Theriot to load the bases, bringing the pitcher’s spot to the plate.

What followed is what has Cubs fans across the board infuriated. The highly-touted and highly-controversial Milton Bradley stepped to the plate to pinch hit. More accurately, he pinch stood. Bradley watched the first three pitches go by to bring the count to 3-0 only to strike out with the bat resting nicely on his shoulder.

Of course, the anger management class graduate shared a few choice words with the home plate umpire and, not shockingly at all, was tossed from the game.

The Cubs had one more opportunity to break the 4-4 tie but Alfonso Soriano flew out to Duncan in left field.

Two things happened in the sixth inning – Wainwright proved that while his mechanics might not be completely sound early in the season, he certainly has the mental toughness that should help carry him through this season as the Cardinals’ No. 1 starter.

What it showed the Cubs was that they need to find answers for their offense.

On paper, there is no question that Chicago should breeze through the NL Central. But if the bullpen, aside from Carlos Marmol, continues to have problems holding leads and saving games, the offense needs to find a way to step it up.

This is only the first of four games this weekend between the two division rivals, but already many questions are being raised and answered on both sides of the field.

The Cubs should have a decided advantage in Friday’s game with staff ace Carlos Zambrano taking the ball while the Cardinals send rookie P.J. Walters to the hill to make his Major League debut. Walters was just brought up from Triple-A Memphis to give the starting rotation a bit of support while Chris Carpenter takes his 15 days on the DL.

It’s a heck of a way to make a debut, in a stadium that typically favors hitters and in one of the biggest series of the early season. If there is even a glimpse of good in Walters’ performance under such great pressure, good things might be in store for the young pitcher.

But with Big Z on the mound and considering the pitching matchup, there is little reason why the Cubs shouldn’t even the series. If the Cardinals’ bats stay hot, even against Chicago’s No. 1, the discussion might quickly turn from running away with the division to simply trying to keep pace.


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