ST. LOUIS -- Another September will begin with the Chicago Cubs far from playoff contention, but the team still has goals for the final month.
"Our goal down the stretch is to break as many hearts as possible," pitcher Carlos Villanueva said Sunday. "We play a lot of teams that are in contention, and that's what we are going to learn from -- winning those games."
The Cubs didn’t win Sunday despite staking starter Travis Wood to a 5-0 lead in the second inning. The St. Louis Cardinals chipped away, eventually tying the game 6-6 before scoring three runs off Villanueva in the eighth for the 9-6 win.
While the big blow of the inning was a two-run single by Matt Holliday, the play Villanueva lamented was a bunt by Daniel Descalso back toward the mound that he misplayed into a single, which opened the way for the Cardinals' winning rally.
Other plays not made also caught the attention of manager Rick Renteria, including a fly ball dropped by Arismendy Alcantara after a long run in the fifth, which was ruled a double for Matt Carpenter, and a bouncer by Yadier Molina that got through the middle of the infield in the seventh.
"Defense is really, really important," Renteria said. "We had a couple of plays today in the game which, quite frankly, probably could have been made and weren't, extending innings a little bit."
Villanueva said those are the things the Cubs will need to do better in September if they want to win games when they have a chance, like Sunday. Despite losing the final two games of the series to the Cardinals, they still finished August with their first winning record for a month since August 2011.
"If I make the play on the bunt, the inning's over," Villanueva said. "A couple of things here and there could have us winning this series. I know what needs to be addressed has already been addressed. We take nothing from it other than loss. We're not happy about it."
Renteria hopes the team’s young players look back at games like Sunday, and the small margin between winning and losing, and learn from that experience.
"That’s the beauty of the Central Division," Renteria said. "You’ve got some clubs that are battling. I will still [put] my club against their club any day, and we'll keep battling."