(AP) — In his five season with the Chicago Cubs, Ryan Theriot became one of the more popular players among the fans. But when he returns to Wrigley Field with his new team, he might not get such a warm reception.

The St. Louis Cardinals shortstop’s critical comments about his former club during the offseason has added some spice to the fervent rivalry, which resumes with a three-game series that begins Tuesday night without Tony La Russa.

The Cardinals manager has left the team to get treatment for an eye problem at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, and La Russa’s status for the rest of the series has not been determined. He said in late April he was dealing with a lingering case of conjunctivitis, an inflammation commonly known as pink eye.

Bench coach Joe Pettini will replace La Russa as acting manager, and it seems likely he’ll keep Theriot at the top of the lineup.

With his consistent hitting and hustle, Theriot was a beloved member of a pair of NL Central-winning teams and Cubs fans were often seen sporting T-shirts with his nickname, “The Riot.”

Some of those shirts might have ended up in the trash after he told a St. Louis radio station in December that he was now “finally on the right side” of the rivalry and questioned his former team’s commitment to winning a long-awaited World Series title.

In response, Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano said Theriot was now “the enemy” during the team’s annual convention the following month.

Coincidentally, Zambrano (4-1, 4.23 ERA) is scheduled to start Tuesday, but manager Mike Quade said he expects Theriot’s words to have little bearing on the series.

“Anybody who knows Ryan knows he’ll say what he says,” Quade told the team’s website. “I put very little behind what anybody says, whether it’s Ryan or anybody else.”

If the sometimes-volatile Zambrano can keep his cool, he’ll likely have a better chance to win a season-high third consecutive start and third straight outing against the Cardinals (20-15). The right-hander, who has posted a 1.93 ERA in his latest two outings, has gone 11-1 with a 2.47 ERA in his last 15 starts. He is 10-2 with a 3.79 ERA in his last 16 starts versus St. Louis, with the Cubs going 14-2 in those games.

The Cubs were 9-6 against the Cardinals last season, but 4-5 at Wrigley.

Chicago (15-18) could use some timely hitting with its archrival coming to town. The Cubs have batted .148 with runners in scoring position over the past 12 games and went 4 for 24 in those situations while dropping two of three at home to Cincinnati last weekend.

They failed to score with the bases loaded in two innings of a 2-0 loss Sunday and stranded 25 runners in the three games.

“There’s no magic formula,” Quade told the team’s website. “You have to try to be patient and try to have at-bats realizing that (the pitcher) out there is in trouble and don’t be in a hurry to do your damage. That’s a tough thing.”

The Cubs might have better luck against right-hander Chris Carpenter, who is off to an uncharacteristically slow start.

Carpenter (0-2, 4.19) gave up 10 hits for the second straight game Wednesday and allowed six runs in six innings of an 8-7 defeat to Florida. He didn’t get the decision.

“Obviously it’s not what I’m looking for,” Carpenter said. “There’s all kinds of things I could have done better.”

The former NL Cy Young Award winner dropped four of his final five starts in 2010, posting a 5.34 ERA.

Two of those losses came against the Cubs, and he has gone 0-3 with a 5.51 ERA in his last three matchups. Carpenter was 10-3 with a 2.79 ERA in his first 19 starts versus Chicago.

Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. STATS LLC and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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