CHICAGO – Matt Garza is working deep into games and racking up wins during one of the best stretches of his career. Alfonso Soriano is on quite a tear at the plate.
While the Cubs are seeing improved results on the field, the timely work by Garza and Soriano could pay even bigger dividends down the road.
Garza earned his fifth consecutive win and Soriano homered again, leading the Cubs to a 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.
Garza allowed a season-high 10 hits in 6 2-3 innings, but held the NL's highest scoring offense to two runs while improving to 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his last six starts. With a handful of scouts from several contenders watching his every move, the right-hander struck out four and walked two.
"This last five, six starts have been extremely impressive," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
Garza's hot stretch has made him one of the top names on the market ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. But he also is eligible for free agency after the season, adding a tricky element to the negotiations between any interested team and a Cubs franchise looking for more top-level prospects for its rebuilding project.
"You get caught up in it, but I've been through it so much that I'm just oblivious to it till something happens," Garza said. "It's stressful, but at the same time you know I have a great outlet: I get to pitch every five days."
Jon Jay had four hits and Matt Adams went 2 for 4 for St. Louis, which had won six of seven, including a 3-2 victory in the second game of the four-game series on Friday night. Lance Lynn was knocked out in the fifth inning in his second-shortest outing of the season.
"You go through times in the season where things aren't going your way, and I'm definitely in one of those stints right now," Lynn said.
The Cardinals played without outfielder Matt Holliday, who left Thursday's night's 3-0 loss to the Cubs due to tightness in his right hamstring. All-Star catcher Yadier Molina was out of the starting lineup on his 31st birthday, but he hit for Rob Johnson in the eighth and stayed in the game.
Molina reached on an error by right fielder Julio Borbon, loading the bases with one out. Matt Carpenter hit a sacrifice fly, trimming the Cubs' lead to 6-3, but James Russell got Daniel Descalso to fly out to end the inning.
Kevin Gregg allowed Jay's two-out RBI single in the ninth before retiring Pete Kozma with runners on the corners for his 17th save in 19 chances.
"They were right there in a game that looked like it was going to get out of control," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It was a tough one, but I imagine people are tired of hearing me say we keep fighting but I'm not tired of saying it because it's true."
Soriano drove Lynn's first pitch of the third over the wall in center field for his 16th homer, extending the lead to 4-1. The slugger went 2 for 5 and is batting .350 (21 for 60) with nine homers and 19 RBIs in his last 15 games, increasing the likelihood that he could be dealt in the next couple weeks.
"When he's getting these mistakes, he's putting good swings on them and doing a good job at the plate," Sveum said.
Garza (6-1) escaped a jam in the fourth and was in control until the Cardinals chased him with three hits in the seventh, including Allen Craig's run-scoring single.
Garza received a standing ovation from the crowd of 42,240 as he trudged off the mound following Craig's hit, but the pitcher slammed his glove on his right leg as he made his way to the dugout, upset with the hit by his last batter.
Matt Guerrier came in with two runners on and got Adams to fly out to end the inning.
"We turned the corner. We're playing great baseball right now," Garza said after the Cubs won for the sixth time in eight games. "We're coming up with some clutch hits and making great plays in tough situations. You can see growth, and it's awesome."
Lynn (11-4) was charged with six runs, five earned, and a season-high 10 hits in 4 1-3 innings. The right-hander dropped to 5-2 with a 3.30 ERA in eight career appearances against the Cubs.
NOTES: The Cubs claimed OF Cole Gillespie off waivers from the San Francisco Giants. Gillespie was hitless in nine at-bats over three games with the Giants before he was designated for assignment on Tuesday. He will join the Cubs on Sunday. ... Lynn lasted just four-plus innings in his first start of the season on April 3 at Arizona. ... Cubs OF Nate Schierholtz rested, and Sveum said he probably will be off again on Sunday. Sveum said Schierholtz is a little banged up. "A little bit of everything, nothing major," Sveum said. ... Cubs RHP Scott Baker will throw approximately 65 pitches in his first rehab start with Class A Kane County on Sunday, according to Sveum. Baker missed last season with Minnesota after having elbow-ligament replacement surgery. ... The attendance set a season high this season for Wrigley Field. ... All-Stars Adam Wainwright (12-5, 2.30 ERA) of the Cardinals and Travis Wood (6-6, 2.69 ERA) of the Cubs face off on Sunday night in the final game before the break.