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At 1st glance, vacancy is filled
While St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols may be gone for several weeks with a strained oblique muscle, the Cardinals appear better equipped to handle the loss of their superstar than the Cubs were when Derrek Lee was lost with a broken wrist.
Plugging center fielder Jim Edmonds into Pujols' position at first base Sunday, the Cardinals barely skipped a beat, rolling to a 9-6 victory over the Cubs before 45,753 at Busch Stadium.
Despite nursing an abdominal injury and being unable to run all out, Edmonds went 3-for-3 with a pair of RBIs. Scott Rolen took over for Pujols in the No. 3 hole and drove in three runs, helping the Cardinals avoid a sweep.
Greg Maddux lasted only five innings, allowing six runs on nine hits, and is 1-5 with a 7.75 earned-run average in his last seven starts.
"I never found my rhythm or got comfortable," Maddux said. "I just didn't pitch good."
Cubs manager Dusty Baker said no one wants to see a player get hurt, but Pujols' injury does make the Cardinals more vulnerable. Whether they're as vulnerable as the Cubs were without Lee is the big question.
"Nobody felt sorry for us when Derrek went down," right fielder Jacque Jones said. "So we're not going to feel sorry for those guys. They've still got a good team. They've still got some players over there. They swung the bat well [Sunday].
"One person doesn't make a team. It could hurt a little bit, but these guys have a good enough team to maybe overcome a little of that."
Baker maintained there was a direct correlation between the injuries to Pujols and Lee, who finished first and third, respectively, in last year's National League MVP voting. The major difference in the two teams' situations, Baker suggested, was the Cubs had also lost Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.
"It's a test of really who has the most depth," Baker said. "That's what it boils down towho has the best bench, who has the best secondary players that can play in a primary role for a period of time."
The Cubs were only a half-game out of first when Lee went down, but have fallen to 121/2 games back in his absence. The Cardinals had a three-game lead over Cincinnati on Sunday when Pujols was placed on the 15-day disabled list and lead the National League in pitching.
Cardinals starter Jason Marquis improved to 8-4 despite a lackluster performance. The Cubs had a chance to break it open in the first when Marquis walked the bases loaded with one out and gave up an RBI single to Aramis Ramirez. But Jones struck out and Matt Murton hit a weak grounder to end the inning.
"We let him off the hook there," Baker said.
Maddux (6-5) also started out poorly, walking two in the first and serving up RBI doubles to Rolen and Juan Encarnacion.
A lack of execution by the Cubs led to a third run when Timo Perez grounded out to first with runners on second and third. When Todd Walker threw to second to try to nail Encarnacion, Edmonds broke for the plate and scored easily on Ronny Cedeno's off-target throw.
Baker called it a heads-up play by Edmonds.
"That's a situation where [Walker] kind of has to look him back," Baker said. "That wasn't a bad play. That was good baserunning."
Five straight hits off Marquis in the third led to a four-run inning, giving the Cubs a 5-3 lead, but Maddux was hit hard in the fifth, surrendering four straight hits, including RBI doubles by Edmonds and Encarnacion, putting St. Louis ahead 6-5.
The Cardinals added three runs off David Aardsma in the sixth to pull away.
Despite the loss, the Cubs were upbeat after taking two of three.
"The last week and a half or two weeks, we've put up a fight," Jones said. "We haven't rolled over. We were in it for nine innings."