Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has been waiting for his 36-year-old right fielder to plateau, but Carlos Beltran keeps surprising. On Saturday in Miami, Beltran tripled and hit a home run from each side of the plate for the 36th multi-home run game of his career. On Monday, he found his name atop the list of outfielders in the National League All-Star voting a day after his 14-game hitting streak ended.
"He's been incredible," Matheny said. "We're trying to listen to him and give him some days, and it's been pretty nice that we've been able to give him some rest, play some of the other guys and still be as productive as he's been. You look at a day like that, second-to-last day in Miami, there's just not many guys, I don't care how old they are, in their prime, that are going to have a day like that. It's just a sign of what he's all about. He's a pro."
The Cardinals' consummate pro has helped lead his team to a Major League best plus-105 run differential and baseball's best record heading into Tuesday's rivalry game against the Cubs in St. Louis. It will be the second game of a four-game series between the clubs, which split two contests in Chicago earlier this season.
After a nine-game road trip, Matheny was relieved to arrive back in St. Louis and play in front of the team's home fans Monday. Rain delayed the start of the game, but it was worth the wait for the home crowd. The Cardinals defeated the Cubs in the series opener, 5-2, in front of a crowd spotted with Cubs fans at Busch Stadium.
"I think everybody has their own memories and rivalries," Matheny said. "It's always nice, too, you've got Cub fans making their way down here just like Cardinal fans make their way up there to add to the excitement."
Beltran did not hurt the Cubs too much Monday, going 1-for-3 with two runs, but he should remain a focus for Tuesday's Cubs starter, Jeff Samardzija.
Matheny said Beltran's recent success was no fluke. The manager went into the weight room before Monday's game and saw the familiar sight of Beltran working out to keep in shape. The outfielder started the season at a lighter weight than he had in years past, but his overall body strength is at an all-time high.
"He goes in and gets some stretching done, does a lot of work in the training room and then in the weight room just trying to keep overall body strength," Matheny said. " I think he's found a good weight for him, a good program."
Samardzija was solid in three starts against the Cardinals last season, going 1-0 with a 3.57 ERA and 21 strikeouts against nine walks. At times, he has performed like the ace of the Cubs' pitching staff, leading the team with 104 strikeouts and a 3.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
While he has a 2.83 ERA on the road, he has not found success in his last three starts. He allowed five runs on a season-high 10 hits over six innings Thursday in his last outing, and he will face Beltran and the No. 2 run-producing lineup in the National League on Tuesday.
The Cardinals will also send their ace to the hill Tuesday. Adam Wainwright leads all Cardinals pitchers with 10 wins, a 2.18 ERA and 97 strikeouts heading into Tuesday's start. Wainwright has 18 career starts against the Cubs but has not defeated the North Siders since Sept. 24, 2010.
He will need Beltran and the Cardinals' offense to back his effort to have a shot at ending that drought Tuesday.
Cardinals: Reds, Pirates stay close
Despite the best record in the Majors, the Cardinals cannot seem to shake the Pirates and Reds. Pittsburgh enters play Tuesday four games behind the Cardinals, while Cincinnati is just two-and-a-half games back. The Cubs are tied with Milwaukee for fourth but are still 16 games behind St. Louis.
Matheny said his team had fought checking the standings all season, but it is tough not to look at the scoreboard and know Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are still in the hunt.
"I think the more we concentrate on them and what they're doing, the less we're focused on what we have to do," Matheny said. "If we keep playing the kind of baseball we can play we'll be in the right spot at the end. We know we'll have more chances to play them head to head, and that's when it really counts; that's when you've got an opportunity to put some distance."
Cubs: Marmol not a choice to close
After Carlos Marmol blew a three-run lead while filling in for Kevin Gregg as the team's closer Sunday against the Mets, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said the right-hander would no longer be considered as a closer option.
Marmol will return to his job as late-inning reliever, but his first save attempt since April 25 was a telling sign he would not fill in for Gregg anymore.
"[Marmol] has pitched well in the seventh and eighth and even pitched well in some tie games in the ninth and the 10th inning, too," Sveum said Monday. "Obviously, he's having difficulty with the last three outs and a save. We have our closer [in Gregg] when he has his rest. [Marmol] is back in the same role he was in."
Marmol lost his closing job after the first week of the season, when he struggled against the Braves in the opening series.
• Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay owns the National League's longest errorless streak for center fielders at 214 games. That number is second in Cardinals' history among outfielders only to Curt Flood, who did not commit an error for 226 games.
• The Cubs have a winning record against teams outside the NL Central at 20-18 but have posted an 8-22 mark against teams in the division.
• Gregg is 9-for-9 on save opportunities this season, joining Cardinals closer Edward Mujica (20-for-20) and three others as the only remaining perfect closers. Gregg had pitched four consecutive days before Sunday's game, which is why Marmol was used in his spot against the Mets.
• In his last six games, Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney is hitting .296 with a home run and three RBIs. Barney hit the second road home run of his career Monday.
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.