A couple of National League clubs with the same long-term goals but different short-term targets collide this weekend in St. Louis where the Cardinals host the Miami Marlins.
Both squads are ultimately aiming for a National League pennant and were among a lengthy list of contenders behind the favored Philadelphia Phillies (+170) on the preseason MLB futures odds list. With the Phils wallowing in the basement of the NL East, it has opened the door for several teams to reach the World Series as the NL reps.
Miami was 10/1 to do that back in April, sharing those same odds with Arizona, Atlanta, San Francisco and Washington. St. Louis, coming off their surprising postseason run last October that ended with a World Series title, was listed at 12/1 when the season got underway.
Short-term goals for the Marlins are simply to reach .500 before next week's all-star break. Miami started the weekend set at 40-42 (-8.8 units) and fourth in the NL East, nine games south of the Nationals. The Redbirds were setting their sights on catching or at least tightening the gap on the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates who held a 2.5-game lead over third-place St. Louis in the NL Central. The Cardinals began the series 44-39 on the campaign (-5.9 units).
Hoping to add a little punch to the offense, Miami acquired 1B Carlos Lee from Houston on Wednesday for a couple of minor leaguers, infielder Matt Dominguez and left-hander Rob Rasmussen. Lee was in the Marlins lineup Thursday and batted third, delivering a double in his first at bat as part of a 2-hit day to help the Marlins to a 4-0 win over Milwaukee.
Friday's series opener (8:15 p.m. ET) was still pending and pitted Jake Westbrook on the mound for the Cardinals who were favorites in the 135-145 range on the Don Best odds screen. The Marlins were sending Ricky Nolasco to the hill and the game was playing to a 9½-run total.
Game 2 will be a matinee affair (4:10 p.m. ET) at Busch Stadium III with the mound duel a rematch from a couple of weeks ago in Miami as Carlos Zambrano faces off against Kyle Lohse. The Cardinals opened as 155 favorites and the 9-run total leaned to the 'over.'
St. Louis jumped on Zambrano with five 1st-inning runs at Marlins Park on June 26, and that was all Lohse and the Cardinals needed for a 5-2 victory as $1.40 road chalk. Zambrano's own fielding miscue contributed to the big opening frame for the Cards, but he settled down and put up zeroes the rest of the way before leaving with two outs in the top of the seventh. Lohse worked an out into the eighth and surrendered both Miami plate crossings.
Zambrano entered that contest with an excellent track record against the Cardinals from his days with the Cubs. The loss left him 12-7 lifetime vs. St. Louis with a 3.47 ERA, and he has solid career numbers against several Redbird hitters, including Carlos Beltran (4-for-24, 1 HR), Matt Holliday (5-for-25) and Rafael Furcal (4-for-26).
That June 26 defeat is part of a 5-start string for Zambrano that all ended in Miami losses. The streak started with back-to-back whippings at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays before continuing with setbacks to Boston, St. Louis and Milwaukee. All told, the Fish are 6-10 with Zambrano on the hill.
Lohse survived a tough month of May and will be seeking his third consecutive victory on Saturday. St. Louis is 11-7 in his assignments, with two of those wins coming against the Marlins. That record includes a 5-2 record in Lohse's starts at home where he has a 2.81 ERA.
He has lasted at least seven innings in each of his past five assignments and brings a stretch of six consecutive quality starts into Saturday's contest.
The series will draw to a close Sunday (2:15 p.m. ET) when Anibal Sanchez gets the call for Miami opposite St. Louis rookie Joe Kelly.
The Cardinals have taken three of the four meetings with Miami this year with the 'under' also cashing in three of the battles. All of those games were played in Miami, and the Marlins are 5-3 in their last eight played in St. Louis.