St. Louis Cardinals' Paul Goldschmidt rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Monday, July 19, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Joe Puetz)

ST. LOUIS ( — When you come out of the All-Star Break with only three starting pitchers on your active roster—one of whom you picked up off the scrap heap a month ago—it’s hard to be too picky about what you might see from your rotation on days four and five.

The Cardinals anticipated they would turn to Jake Woodford at some point. After a stint in the St. Louis bullpen to open the 2021 season, Woodford was optioned to Triple-A Memphis at the end of June with a to-do list. The Cardinals wanted Woodford to build up his stamina so he could serve as an option for the rotation in the second half. That option was exercised Monday, as Woodford got the call back to the bigs in time to face the rival Cubs in game one of a four-game set.

What did the Cardinals need him to give them in the second start of his big-league career Monday night at Busch Stadium? A chance.

Woodford delivered more than that, holding the Cubs to one run over 5.2 innings on a night the Cardinals offense erupted for an eight-run output. St. Louis defeated Chicago 8-3 as Woodford earned his second win of the season, third of his career, and his first as a starting pitcher in the major leagues.

Dylan Carlson got the scoring started for the Cardinals in the third with a sharp line drive back up the middle that nearly took Cubs pitcher Alec Mills with it on its way into center field to plate the first run of the game. It was a bountiful night and welcomed sight for the Cardinals lead-off man, who went 2-for-4 with a walk, a home run and 4 RBIs after entering the game with a .160 batting average in July.

“That ain't gonna get it done, obviously, but I appreciate you letting me know,” Carlson said with a laugh when informed by a reporter of his recent batting line before being asked about the difference between those previous struggles and the splendor of his performance Monday. “Handling pitches I can handle and doing a better job of not necessarily missing my pitch. Just being able to handle the pitches I can handle and do some damage when they’re given to me.”

Carlson had a role, as well, in one of the strangest half-innings of the Cardinals’ season. After loading the bases in the fourth, the Cardinals scored four runs without hitting a ball out of the infield. Cubs shortstop Javier Baez booted one ball and sailed the throw on another to contribute to the madness. Paul Goldschmidt put the cherry on top of the rally on an infield single with an exit velocity of 31.2 miles per hour. Mills ran directly past the baseball on his way to cover first base, and ultimately failed to arrive at the bag in time for Anthony Rizzo to toss it to him for the out.

Goldy’s night was more than just the dinky RBI single, as the veteran first baseman continued his torrid July with a 2-for-5 outing that featured his fifth home run of the month. Goldschmidt’s dinger came in the sixth inning, just moments after Carlson smoked a blast of his own just fair down the right field line. The power display marked the fourth time this season the Cardinals have gone back-to-back and punctuated a wild evening for the St. Louis offense.

“Goldy really is a pro’s pro. A guy you can trust,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Clearly has ability, but works to match his talent with his preparation. He sees the game really well, he’s a really good student of the game. He understands it very well. He’s just got a lot of things that he brings that help us win baseball games. Seeing him swing the bat well is obviously important for us.”

Also important for the Redbirds was the effort of Woodford. The Cardinals benefited from Chicago’s many mishaps in the fourth to score their runs and build the young right-hander a cushion. Woodford made sure not to squander it.

After the Cubs led off the top of the fifth with three straight hits to load the bases, Woodford settled in to induce a key double play on Ian Happ, gladly trading a pair of outs for a run given the comfortable lead the Cardinals held at the time. A harmless fly ball to center field ensured that the bases-loaded, no-out threat would result in just a single tally for the Cubs.

“That was awesome,” Carlson said of the spark Woodford provided the team Monday. “It was a great team win. He definitely really helped the pace and the flow of the game, which obviously led to some really good at-bats for us. That’s definitely something to build off. He did a really nice job tonight.”

Monday’s win was the Cardinals’ third in a row, bringing the team back to a .500 winning percentage for the first time since June 20. Though it took them a month to finally level things back out at 47-47, the Cardinals manager would now like to see his club swiftly move beyond the benchmark in the days ahead.

“Didn't like being under, I can tell you that,” Shildt said. “Can’t be over it until you’re at it… It was good to get back to .500. Now it’s time to get beyond it, on the positive side.”

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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