- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Mike Leake is one of the top hitting pitchers in the majors, which made his failure to execute a squeeze play a little tougher to take.

Down by a run, the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth inning when Leake couldn’t make contact on a bunt attempt against John Lackey. Kolten Wong successfully scrambled back to third, but St. Louis came up empty when Leake and Matt Carpenter struck out in a 5-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Monday night.

“It was a tough pitch to try to get down,” said Leake, a .209 career hitter with six homers and 23 RBIs in 369 at-bats. “I guess I’ll try to practice a little more.”

Leake (0-2) couldn’t match zeros with Lackey (3-0) and couldn’t quite pick up his defense, either. The Cubs scored three runs in the seventh - the last two after a throwing error by rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz allowed a run that put Chicago up 2-0.

“That’s what we’re paid to do: We’re paid to get guys out,” said Leake, the Cardinals’ top free agent addition in the offseason. “I just didn’t do a good job of answering back after that ground ball.”

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wasn’t too hard on Diaz, who doubled and is batting .400 in 35 at-bats.

“Young player, it happens,” Matheny said. “We do also see a trend of him getting better the more he gets out there.”

From the second inning through the fifth, Leake had four of his six strikeouts and allowed just a hit and a walk. He retired the side on nine pitches in the third, the first eight called strikes followed by Jason Heyward’s groundout.

“I think they were just waiting for their pitch,” Leake said. “I don’t think I really gave them hittable pitches that inning.”

Lackey struck out 11 in seven innings of four-hit ball against his former team and had an RBI single.

Heyward, like Lackey playing at Busch Stadium for the first time since leaving to sign with Chicago, was 0 for 4 at the plate, made two nice catches in right field and was booed throughout.

Dexter Fowler homered for the second time in three days for the Cubs, a major league-best 10-3 and off to their best start since 1970. Chicago has won 15 of its last 16 regular-season road games, going 6-1 this year.

Fowler homered in the sixth. Addison Russell had a sacrifice fly and Lackey, who entered with a .111 career batting average, singled for a 4-0 lead and his seventh RBI in 129 career at-bats.

Lackey struck out cleanup hitter Brandon Moss three times, and fanned leadoff man Matt Carpenter and No. 5 hitter Stephen Piscotty twice each. The 11 strikeouts, one shy of his career high, was his 20th double-digit strikeout game.

Lackey was 13-10 with a career-best 2.77 ERA with St. Louis last year, taking over as ace after Adam Wainwright tore his left Achilles tendon in April.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals SS Ruben Tejada was activated from the 15-day DL from a strained left quadriceps but did not play.

ROTATIONAL PULL

Cubs starters have worked at least six innings in every game. The 13-game streak to start the year is the longest in the majors since 1988 when the Astros had a 22-game streak and the Indians went 17 games, according to STATS.

NUMBERS GAME

Heyward is 1 for 18 against Leake with one RBI although he lined out sharply twice. Moss entered 4 for 8 with two RBIs against Lackey.

UP NEXT

Cubs: RHP Jason Hammel (1-0, 0.75 ERA) has allowed one run in 12 innings with nine strikeouts. He’s 2-3 with a 5.97 ERA in seven career starts against St. Louis.

Cardinals: LHP Jaime Garcia (1-0, 2.40) threw a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts his last time out against Milwaukee.

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