Leake will try to get the Cards back on track

SAN FRANCISCO -- St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake will duel the guy the San Francisco Giants chose to replace him during the winter when he opposes Jeff Samardzija on Saturday night in a key matchup in the National League wild-card race.

Leake was acquired by the Giants from the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline.

San Francisco paid a hefty price -- outfielder Adam Duvall has turned into a 30-homer player -- but the defending champs were trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers atop the NL West at the time and thought they needed to do something.

Do the Cardinals want to make the playoffs?

The Cardinals are not exactly rolling right now. They're 4-6 in their last ten, got rolled over by the Cubs, and did not impress in their first game against the Giants. There are some glaring issues with this team, most of which have to do with the performances 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate.

It didn't work. Leake went just 2-5 with a 4.07 ERA in nine starts and the Giants, who trailed LA by a half-game on the day of the trade, wound up eight back.

Leake, a free agent at season's end, wasn't invited back. He went to the Cardinals on a five-year, $80 million deal.

The Giants then turned around and invested $10 million more in Samardzija on a five-year agreement.

Neither high-priced acquisition has impressed, and that's one reason both teams find themselves battling for wild-card playoff spots rather than division titles.

Samardzija has gone 11-10 with a 4.07 ERA in 29 starts for the Giants (79-68), who trail the Dodgers (83-64) by four game atop the West with 15 to play.

Perhaps more important, the Giants have used two series-opening wins to open a three-game lead over the Cardinals (76-71) in the NL wild-card race.

Leake, meanwhile, is 9-10 with a 4.60 ERA in 27 starts for the Cardinals, who have fallen two games behind the New York Mets (78-69) in the race for the second wild-card spot.

"We just have to play better, that's all there is to it," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "The standings are the standings, and we know what they are. You can't run from them. The standings say we're right there, so just keep playing the game."

The pitching head-to-head is critical to each pitcher because both seem to be getting worse as the games get more important.

Samardzija is just 3-6 with a 5.09 ERA in his last 15 starts, with the Giants losing 10 of the 15 games.

Leake has gone 2-3 with a 6.15 ERA in his last eight outings, with the Cardinals losing five of the eight.

If Leake is out for revenge, he should be comforted in the surroundings. He's 6-1 with a 3.07 ERA in nine outings (eight starts) at AT&T Park in San Francisco and 5-2 overall against the Giants with a 5.02 ERA in nine games (eight starts).

He has not faced the Giants this season.

Leake must hope for better support than Friday's Cardinals starter, Luke Weaver, who was pulled before the end of a six-run third inning during which a key error by catcher Yadier Molina made all the runs unearned.

"That's what you want to do," Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said after the win, "take advantage of mistakes."

Samardzija pitched June 4 at St. Louis and was the losing pitcher in a 7-4 defeat. Four Cardinals -- Brandon Moss, Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Matt Adams -- homered off him in his five innings.

The ex-Cub is 4-4 with a 4.61 ERA in 20 career games (nine starts) against the Cardinals.


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