While their manager drew a suspension, the St. Louis Cardinals are probably relieved that right-hander Chris Carpenter avoided the same fate from a bench-clearing brawl earlier this week.
While attempting to help the Cardinals add to their lead in the NL Central, Carpenter will try to match his longest win streak of the season Saturday against the reeling Chicago Cubs.The Cardinals (65-49) enter the matchup leading Cincinnati by one game following a 6-3 victory in Friday night's opener of a three-game series at Busch Stadium.St. Louis manager Tony La Russa began serving his suspension in that win and will complete his punishment Saturday for his part in a first-inning melee with the Reds during an 8-4 win Tuesday night.Carpenter (13-3, 2.89 ERA), meanwhile, was fined for a yelling match with Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker, which aggravated the conflict."Dusty had something to say, I had something to say, and the next thing you know all hell broke loose," Carpenter said.Reprieved from any further punishment, the right-hander will try to craft another impressive outing in what's been a superb season. He's 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA over his last six starts and 3-0 with a 1.15 ERA in his past four at home.He's been even better there against the Cubs in recent seasons, going 2-0 with a 0.46 ERA in his last five matchups. Carpenter is 1-0 with a 2.73 ERA in two starts against Chicago (48-68) this season and 10-3 with a 2.79 ERA in 19 all-time meetings.The Cubs, losers of 14 of 16, will give Carlos Zambrano (3-6, 4.56) his second start since returning from a team suspension July 31. The right-hander gave up two runs and four hits over five innings in his return to the rotation Monday but also walked seven during a 4-3, 11-inning defeat to San Francisco."The good thing was I was able to throw five innings," he said. "I felt good. I've been working hard for this moment."Zambrano, who made two scoreless relief appearances against the Cardinals earlier this season, is 5-1 with a 1.13 ERA in 10 career starts in St. Louis. He's 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA in his last two starts against the NL Central rivals after putting up a 16.62 ERA in his previous three.Zambrano will have to contend with a red-hot Albert Pujols, who is batting .458 with six homers and 14 RBIs over his last 11 games. The Cardinals first baseman, who hit his 395th career home run Friday, is 16 for 61 (.262) with five homers against the right-hander.Derrek Lee, who also homered Friday night in his return from tending to an ailing grandfather, has more hits off Carpenter (16) than any other batter. However, he's hit just one home run in 52 official at-bats against the right-hander.Aramis Ramirez, who could return Saturday from a bout with sore ribs, is tied for second on that list with 15 hits in 51 at-bats.The Cardinals are seeking their fourth consecutive series win at home over the Cubs and have taken eight of 10 meetings there since the beginning of last season.