Shelby Miller has routinely confounded hitters this season. The St. Louis Cardinals right-hander, though, is still trying to solve his own first-inning struggles.
Miller faces the Chicago Cubs on Monday night when the NL Central rivals meet in St. Louis for the first time this season.The Cardinals' rotation is tops in baseball with a 2.97 ERA and Miller (7-4, 2.21 ERA) has played a big part, leading all rookies in wins. He also has the most strikeouts among first-year players with 91 after recording 10 in a 5-1 road loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday.Despite his impressive record and ERA, Miller has a .357 opponents' batting average in the first inning and has given up two runs in the first in three of his last four starts."I don't necessarily know what it is, but I'm going to go back and watch film through those first couple of innings to see if there is something I can pick up," Miller told the Cardinals' official website.Miller will make his second appearance and first start against the Cubs (28-39), who are coming off a 4-3 loss to the Mets on Sunday. Chicago was three outs from a fourth consecutive victory -- and season-best fourth in a row on the road -- before Carlos Marmol gave up all the runs in the ninth inning."When you blow a save, you lost the game. It's tough," Marmol said.The Cubs will now try to end a four-game skid in St. Louis, where they were outscored 23-1 while getting swept in their last visit July 20-22.Travis Wood (5-5, 2.65) knows all too well about the Cubs' offensive struggles. The left-hander has been the team's most consistent pitcher but has lost his last two starts despite allowing three runs in 13 innings. Chicago totaled one run in those outings."It's a broken record," manager Dale Sveum said after Wood threw seven innings of two-run ball in a 2-1 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday. "Woody's just pitched another great game and has nothing to show for it."Wood, who has a league-best .191 opponents' batting average, surrendered a home run to Allen Craig in 6 2/3 innings of a 2-1 home win over St. Louis on May 7.Wood will take on a Cardinals team that dropped two of three to Miami over the weekend. St. Louis (44-25) hadn't lost a series since April 26-28.Carlos Beltran had his 14-game hitting streak snapped in a 7-2 defeat Sunday, but he went 5 for 9 with two RBIs as St. Louis and Chicago split two games May 7-8. He was 1 for 3 against Wood last month.So was Yadier Molina, who's batting an NL-best .352. He should be behind the plate for the start of this seven-game homestand after walking in a pinch-hitting appearance Sunday.Molina, 4 for 8 against Chicago in May, is a .335 hitter at home versus the Cubs after going 9 for 25 (.360) with a homer and 10 RBIs in seven such games last season.The Cardinals outscored the Cubs 54-26 while winning six of eight meetings at Busch Stadium in 2012.
Entering his start on Monday, Shelby Miller was striking out nearly 29% of batters faced. Expressed as strikeouts-per-9-innings, he's on pace for one of the most impressive seasons by a player that young in history.