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Thursday, April 16, 2009
Updated: April 24, 12:03 AM ET
Cardinals again need to prove they can win without Carpenter

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Adam Wainwright is among the Cardinals who will need to pick up the slack with Chris Carpenter out.

BIG OPPORTUNITY THIS WEEKEND FOR CARDINALS

By Steve Phillips, ESPN

Those old rivals, the Cubs and Cardinals, play the final three games of their four-game set this weekend at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals opened the series with a win Thursday afternoon, which is big for them because this is an important series for St. Louis, if there is such a thing in April.

The Cards are playing the team many see as the cream of the crop in the NL Central this season. Last year, the Cardinals won 86 games without getting anything from Chris Carpenter. They were hoping to have him back all season, but he's out four to eight weeks because of a rib cage strain and St. Louis again needs to show it is not going to be crippled by his absence. It was good to have Adam Wainwright on the mound in the first game of the series because he has the best stuff of the remaining pitchers on the staff. Wainwright wasn't great Thursday, but the offense helped out and the Cardinals opened the four-game series with a 7-4 win.

St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan always seems to get the most out of his staff. He continues to work his magic with the likes of P.J. Walters, Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer, the remaining Cardinals starters in this series. But the reality is that the Cardinals' offense is going to have to step up -- as it did Thursday -- to offer extra run support for the pitching while the team waits for Carpenter to return. Knowing that you have Albert Pujols in the middle of that lineup is a great start, especially when he's swinging the bat like he is right now (.341, 4 homers, 13 RBIs).

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This series is a bit of an opportunity for the Cubs, as well. They have a chance to reinforce the fact that they are the team to beat in the division. Chicago's offense has been a little bit hit-or-miss early on despite the fact that Alfonso Soriano has been terrific so far. He tends to be a slow starter, but his offseason commitment to conditioning seems to have paid dividends thus far this season. Soriano and Aramis Ramirez spent time at the Cubs' Dominican Republic facility working out and getting prepared for the season, recognizing that, as they get older, they need to do a little bit more to be ready for Opening Day. It's always nice when that commitment gets rewarded with results because it sends a message to other players, as well.

Another good sign for Chicago so far is that Kosuke Fukudome has rebounded from his struggles in the second half of 2008. He is showing patience and the ability to drive the ball, things that disappeared from his game late last season. The Cubs need Fukudome playing well and a healthy Milton Bradley. They need the balance in their batting order. Last season, they were too right-handed, and that got exposed in the playoffs. Fukudome's rebound is a good start, but they need Bradley to get back in the lineup soon because he's a difference-maker with the bat. (Bradley was pinch hitter Thursday and was ejected after striking out.)

The big issue to keep an eye on for the Cubs is their closer situation. They don't have a closer controversy as of yet, but Carlos Marmol is so dominant that it's hard to envision anybody else doing a better job at getting the outs in the ninth inning. Kevin Gregg, who is currently serving as the team's closer, is a serviceable major league pitcher, but he's not nearly as overpowering as Marmol. Whenever Gregg blows a save or struggles in the ninth, rest assured Cubs fans will be screaming for Marmol to take over that role. Manager Lou Piniella has things under control right now and has a plan for how to use his bullpen, but stay tuned because we all know what happens to best-laid plans. They often go astray.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 15 | April 14 | April 13 | April 12 | April 9

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
C. Ross, Fla1AtlKawakamiTop 2: 2-0, 1 Outs. 2 on.
H. Pence, Hou3PitKarstensTop 2: 1-1, 1 Outs. None on.
L. Berkman, Hou2PitBurnettTop 6: 1-2, 2 Outs. 2 on.
J. Posada, NYY2CleLeeBot 5: 2-1, 2 Outs. None on.
C. Duncan, StL2ChCMarshallTop 4: 3-2, 0 Outs. 1 on.

The complete list of Thursday's homers

ON DECK: WEEKEND WATCH

A look at three other series worth keeping an eye on this weekend:

Indians at Yankees

OK, the first game at the new stadium didn't go all that well for the Yankees. But there is still time to salvage the series, and Joba Chamberlain takes the mound Friday in hopes of getting that first win at new Yankee Stadium out of the way.

Orioles at Red Sox

Perhaps some sense of normalcy will return to the AL East this weekend. Seriously, how many people had the Orioles tied for the fewest losses in the division and the Red Sox the most? Brad Penny and Jeremy Guthrie get the series going Friday afternoon.

Padres at Phillies

Sooner or later, the Padres come back to the field, right? Sooner or later, Cole Hamels returns to form, right? Could both start happening Friday, when Hamels and his 17.18 ERA (yeah, after only one start) hosts San Diego for the Phillies' first home game since the death of Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas.

For the rest of Friday's schedule, click here. To see what's on tap for Saturday, click here. And for Sunday's full slate of games, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: FRIDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analyst: Tim Kurkjian, Eric Young, Orestes Destrade

12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analyst: Tim Kurkjian, Eric Young, Orestes Destrade

BBTN ON THE AIR: SATURDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Dari Nowkhah
Analyst: Tim Kurkjian, Eric Young, Orestes Destrade
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Dari Nowkhah
Analyst: Tim Kurkjian, Eric Young, Orestes Destrade

BBTN ON THE AIR: SUNDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
12:30 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: Peter Gammons, John Kruk, Dave Winfield
7 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: Peter Gammons, John Kruk, Dave Winfield

BBTN MINUTE: HAMELS TRIES AGAIN

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he examines John Danks, who baffled the Rays on Thursday in a 3-2 White Sox win. The performance followed Danks' pattern, which dates back to last season:

John Danks' past 6 starts (dating back to 2008)
W-L 3-1
ERA 1.95
IP 37
K-BB 33-15
Team W-L 4-2

WEB GEMS

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Albert PujolsAlbert Pujols had a typical Albert Pujols kind of day against the Mets -- 3-for-4, two home runs, three RBIs and four runs scored. His manager, Tony La Russa summed it up: "Perfect player, in my opinion," La Russa said.
Dave BushDave Bush took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Phillies before Matt Stairs hit a homer with one out in the eighth. Tough to see this one coming, considering Bush entered the game with a 5.40 ERA and had allowed 16 hits in 13 1/3 innings over his first three appearances.
WORST
Sean Green• The hope for the Mets was that their bullpen was improved this season. It hasn't quite worked out, as evidenced by this line from reliever Sean Green in a 12-8 loss against the Cardinals -- two innings, seven hits and five runs.
Bartolo ColonBartolo Colon started out well with a strong debut for the White Sox. His past two outings haven't gone so smoothly. Last week, he was hit hard by the Rays. On Thursday, he gave up eight hits and five runs in just three innings of work in a 6-2 loss against the Orioles.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Kevin Youkilis has come out of the gate firing this season, hitting .472 with a 1.259 OPS, two homers and eight runs scored. What's been the secret to his success so far? Pitchers are throwing him predominantly fastballs, and he's making them pay.

Kevin Youkilis (2009)
Pitch type Pct. of pitches BA SLG
Fastball 72.6 .481 .815
Curve/slider 14.9 .667 .667
Changeup/other 12.5 .333 .333

Look for pitchers to begin throwing Youkilis more non-fastballs as the Sox first baseman hit .246 on non-fastballs last season but .345 when facing the heat.

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF THURSDAY'S GAMES

Adam Morrison examines the 15 games on Friday's slate.

Fantasy Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Friday. Daily Notes