ST. LOUIS • That escalated quickly.
Sort of like the Cubs just might.
The Cardinals' longtime rival, the only team in the National League Central who hasn't been a part of the playoff race this season, showcased their future and how powerful it might be with a 7-2 thumping of the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Friday. Rookie Jorge Soler hit two of the Cubs four home runs, and new additions to the Cubs roster had six of the seven RBIs.
The Cardinals took a two-run lead in the first inning when they turned three singles and a walk into their only scoring rally of the game.
That is how the Cardinals have survived this season, by linking hits and walks and whatever bases they're allowed together into these labor-intensive rallies. They have lacked for power and thus it takes them several swings to do what the Cubs did with only one or two on Friday night.
The Cubs tied the game with Soler's first homer in the top of the seventh inning. Two innings later they had to more homers, five more runs, and a veritable rout on their hands.
Javier Baez, just up from Class AAA Iowa, snapped the 2-2 tie with a two-run double in the top of the eighth inning off setup man Pat Neshek. Soloer followed with a 442-foot homer that put the Cubs further ahead. Neshek allowed four runs in the eighth inning; he had allowed five runs total this season before taking the mound tonight.
In the ninth inning, Arismendy Alcantara popped his sixth homer of the season with a leadoff shot off Nick Greenwood.
In his return to the lineup after seven weeks on the disabled list, Yadier Molina went zero-for-three at the plate and was hit by a pitch.
He played the entire game behind the plate.
The Cubs have gone through a rebuilding process that has centered around acquiring talent on the position player side. And while the organization does not have the pitching talent to fuel a contender, it does have a bushel of power prospects coming up. The Cubs hit four homers and their team leader Anthony Rizzo, who has 30 homers, didn't take a step out of the dugout in the game. The Cubs' minor-league leader in homers hasn't arrived in the majors yet. And yet this next month could be a harbinger of the future ahead for the Cubs as they speed toward contention.
Like the ambush the Cubs hatched on the Cardinals late in Friday's game, their arrival as a threat in the division could be quicker than anticipated.
Shelby Miller did not receive a decision in the game after holding the Cubs to two runs on four hits and two walks.
Both of the runs he allowed -- get this -- came on homers.
Soler Power, Take 2: Cubs ignite a rout in eighth inning
It took the Cubs seven innings to tie the score tonight at Busch Stadium and one to make the game look like it was never a contest at all.
The Cubs have opened up a 6-2 lead and they are still hitting here in the top of the eighth inning.
Led by Jorge Soler's second homer in as many at-bats, the Cubs pounded setup man Pat Neshek for four runs before he could get a third out in the eighth inning. The first three batters reached base on Neshek in the eighth inning after he was brought in to nurse a 2-2 tie through to the bottom of the inning.
Chris Coghlan had a ground-rule double that eluded rookie Oscar Taveras in right field. Javier Baez followed with a two-run double to the left-center gap.
Baez was on second as Neshek retired the next two batters.
He couldn't get Soler out to end the inning. The Cubs rookie from Cuba hit his second homer of the evening and the third of his week-old career. The blast scored Baez and upped his RBI title to three for the evening. It also traveled an estimated 442 feet out to left field. There was little doubt it was gone as he turned on the pitch and drove it over the bullpen and out toward the concourse at Busch Stadium III.
Nick Greenwood came in to clean up the inning with a groundout.
Soler power: Cubs tie game on solo homer, 2-2
So about that exchange rate on swings vs. runs.
The Cardinals, who have five hits in the game and three of them in the first inning, have had to craft their offense out of singles, as they have all season. The Cardinals don't have the power to put up crooked numbers with just a few swings, or to turn an error or a walk here or there into a sudden rally with a swing that sends a ball over the fence.
They have more of a slow-roaster offense.
The Cubs have a microwave.
Sometimes that means they burn out, but that also means they are a single moment away from putting up a run by putting a ball out of the park.
That's how they've tied the game tonight.
The Cardinals have two runs cobbled together out of three singles and a walk way back in the first inning. The Cubs have two runs on two homers. Jorge Soler hit the latest of the two with a solo shot to center field in the top of the seventh inning. Soler's second homer since coming to the majors has knotted the game, 2-2, through 6 1/2 innings.
Over the past few weeks, the Cubs have integrated more and more power into their lineup with promotions. Javier Baez doesn't have that great of a batting average (.189), but he has seven homers. Soler came into the game with a .500 average in his limited big-league time, and he's got two homers already. The Cubs had three batters with at least 10 homers in the lineup, and that doesn't include one of the NL leaders in power, Anthony Rizzo, who is sidelined by injury.
The Cardinals have three players with more than 10 homers as well.
That includes two former All-Stars in the middle of the order.
The Cardinals muzzled an earlier rally from the Cubs with a slick play in the outfield by Matt Holliday. Starlin Castro drove a ball to deep center field, and Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay crashed into the wall trying to catch it. He was unable to, and that ball bounded off the wall and back into the field of play. Holliday scooped it up and fired to shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Peralta pivoted and threw a strike to third base so that Matt Carpenter could tap out Castro trying to go for third base.
Both starters are out of the game, leaving it in the hands of the bullpen.
Kyle Hendricks held the Cardinals to two runs on five hits and one walk. Shelby Miller kept pace by allowed two runs on four hits through seven innings. He walked two and struck out five.
The Cubs' power does come with that caveat.
They do strike out. There are outs to be had.
Cards, Miller clinging to 2-1 lead through 4 1/2 innings
Since the single that put the Cardinals ahead by two runs in the first inning, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks hasn't allowed another runner to reach base.
Heck, he's let very few baseballs leave the infield.
Hendricks, the Cubs' 5-1 righty at the start of the evening, has retired 11 consecutive Cardinals heading into the bottom of the fifth inning. Seven of those 11 batters have failed to get a ball beyond the reach of an infielder. The Cardinals were retired swiftly in the fourth inning with a strikeout, a lineout to the first baseman, and then a popup handled in foul territory by the third baseman.
The lineout was the hardest strike of the inning and that came from Yadier Molina. First baseman Chris Valaika had no trouble gloving it at knee level.
The innings haven't been as problem free for Miller but they have been just as fruitful for the Cubs. That is to say, not at all fruitful. The Cardinals righty pitched around two walks in the fourth inning to keep the Cubs from scoring that inning and tying the game.
The Cardinals hold a 2-1 lead as Jon Jay steps to bat in the fifth.
Matt Holliday, by the way, extended his hitting streak to 10 games with RBI single in the first inning.
Holliday, Peralta combine to give Cards early 2-1 lead
The difference between the offense the Cardinals do have and the one that the Cubs may soon have was obvious in the first few innings of tonight's game at Busch Stadium.
Four of the first five batters the Cardinals sent to the plate in the bottom of the first inning reached base.
Three hits singles and a fourth, Kolten Wong, worked a walk.
Wong also stole third base for his 19th steal of the season, and he was there to score when Jhonny Peralta tapped a single to left field to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. Peralta's RBI single can a batter after Matt Holliday's RBI single, and in total the Cardinals worked their Radio Dial Offense to the best of their ability. The only runner who went 180 feet on any one play was Matt Carpenter when he scored from second on Holliday's groundball single.
Otherwise, it was station to station to station, even when they stole a station. The offense produced a lead, but it took four swings to do it.
The Cubs cut the lead in half with one swing.
With an apparent monopoly on young power in the division, the Cubs chomped into the Cardinals lead with a solo homer to lead off the second inning. Third baseman Luis Valbuena hit it to the seats in right center field off starter Shelby Miller.
Yadier Molina struck out in his first at-bat since early July.
Molina returns to lineup, while Robinson's season ends
With their catcher back and ready to play tonight, the Cardinals have sided with pitching depth on the eve of a doubleheader vs. the Cubs.
Yadier Molina was activated for tonight's game at Busch Stadium and is in the starting lineup, batting sixth. Molina had expected to be activated when he spoke about his return Thursday night after a rehab assignment game in Springfield, Mo.
To make room on the active roster for Molina's return, the Cardinals optioned backup catcher Tony Cruz to Class AA Springfield.
This move comes just a few days after manager Mike Matheny said he would be comfortable carrying three catchers through the weekend. But clearly being comfortable with the pitching depth is just as important for the Cardinals. Rookie lefty Marco Gonzales was promoted from Memphis as the club's 26th player for Saturday's doubleheader and will start the night game against the Cubs.
By optioning Cruz instead of a pitcher, the Cardinals will have two long relievers available for this weekend. Should any of the starters -- Shelby Miller tonight and Justin Masterson or Gonzales on Saturday -- falter there will be Nick Greenwood and Tyler Lyons available as backup.
"We need the arms," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's all there is to it. Make sure we were covered."
The Cardinals could have kept Cruz and one of the long relievers and then made moves accordingly this weekend. Instead, they kept the pitching depth and will bring back Cruz when rosters expand.
Also of note today:
-- Shane Robinson had surgery on his left shoulder Thursday. The Cardinals said that Robinson sustained a fracture in the shoulder when sliding into second base on Monday evening at Pittsburgh. The area was vulnerable, an official said, because of an injury to the same shoulder four years ago. Robinson's season is over, though he should be ready for spring training.
-- Jason Motte threw his third bullpen session this afternoon. He called it his most intensive of the three. The Cardinals would like to see the righty get a rehab appearance in the minors in the near future. The schedule is limited, however, unless the Triple-A Redbirds qualify for the postseason and Motte can get an appearance there midweek next week.
Cruz goes to Class AA Springfield because that affiliate's season ends sooner than Class AAA Memphis and thus Cruz will not have to stay the usual 10 days before being eligible to return to the majors.
Cruz will play for Class AA Springfield. Both Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak want him to get some innings at catcher over the weekend.
1. Carpenter 3B
2. Wong 2B
3. Holliday LF
4. Adams 1B
5. Peralta SS
6. Molina C
7. Taveras RF
8. Jay CF
9. Miller P
1. Coghlan LF
2. Baez 2B
3. Castro SS
4. Valbuena 3B
5. Soler RF
6. Castillo C
7. Alcantara CF
8. Valaika 1B
9. Hendricks P
Check back soon for more as this story develops at Busch Stadium.