Continued success against the Houston Astros has helped the St. Louis Cardinals maintain the final wild-card spot in the NL.
The Cardinals look to complete a three-game sweep with an eighth straight win over the lowly Astros on Thursday at Busch Stadium.
The reigning World Series champion Cardinals hold a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers and 2 1/2-game advantage over surging Milwaukee in the race for the NL's final wild-card berth.
St. Louis has been able to remain in that position by continuing its dominance over Houston (48-101), which has been outscored 51-13 during a seven-game skid against the Cardinals that dates to a 9-8 home win June 5. St. Louis has outscored Houston 33-8 while winning all five games between the teams at Busch Stadium in 2012."They have some guys that can hit the ball and you just want to work hard and try and get through the game," losing pitcher Lucas Harrell said.
Molina, 4 for 6 in the series, is batting .412 (14 for 34) against the Astros this season. Freese is 4 for 24 in his last seven games but is hitting .393 (11 for 28) with four homers and 13 RBIs in his last seven versus Houston.
Scheduled St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia (4-7, 4.24 ERA) is 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA in seven home starts this season but 0-5 with an 8.10 ERA in seven career outings versus Houston. He's yielded 12 runs and walked six in eight innings while going 0-2 against the Astros at Minute Maid Park in 2012.
The left-hander's most recent outing also came on the road Saturday when he allowed one earned run and three hits in six innings while not factoring in the decision of a 4-3 loss at Los Angeles.
While the Cardinals hope Garcia can change his luck against the Astros, the Cardinals might have a good chance to complete the sweep against scheduled starter Bud Norris (5-12, 4.93).
The right-hander is 0-11 with a 6.04 ERA in 17 starts since beating the Chicago Cubs on May 21. He is 1-2 with a 3.50 ERA versus St. Louis this season, with both defeats coming during his current winless stretch.
Norris had allowed one run over 12 2-3 innings of his previous two starts before he gave up five in 5 1-3 innings of a 5-1 loss at Cincinnati in his most recent Sept. 8.
"I'm trying to leave it all on the field," said Norris, who has been given some extended rest in order to allow a blister on his pitching hand to heel.
Rookie third baseman Brandon Laird had two of the five hits Wednesday for Houston, which has been held to one run and 12 hits in the first two games of the set.
Astros outfielder Justin Maxwell is 0 for 7 with five strikeouts in the series but 4 for 6 with two doubles and a homer against Garcia.
|September 07, 2012||Jose Altuve||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left abdominal|
|August 30, 2012||Marwin Gonzalez||Day-to-Day||Torn ligament, left ankle|
|August 28, 2012||Bud Norris||Day-to-Day||Left game - blister|
|August 22, 2012||Justin Maxwell||Day-to-Day||Bruised right index finger|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|September 09, 2012||Matt Carpenter||Day-to-Day||Cut hand|
|September 09, 2012||Jake Westbrook||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
|September 09, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Swollen left ankle|
|August 31, 2012||Rafael Furcal||15-Day DL||Torn UCL, right elbow - out for season|
|August 30, 2012||Rafael Furcal||Day-to-Day||Left game - right elbow strain|
|August 28, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained upper back|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Carlos Beltran appears to be getting his stroke back. Good timing for the St. Louis Cardinals' final playoff push.
Beltran snapped a sixth-inning tie with a two-run, pinch-hit double and Allen Craig hit a three-run homer, powering the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory Thursday that held their cushion in the NL wild-card race.
The Cardinals lead Milwaukee by 2 1/2 games for the second wild-card spot with 12 games remaining. Los Angeles, which lost 4-1 at Washington, is three back.
St. Louis has won four in a row, capitalizing on a break in the schedule. There's more sub-.500 opposition ahead in the final trip of the year, with three in Chicago beginning Friday and three more in Houston.
"Our vibe's four games better," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's about it. We're really trying to enjoy each one and realize how much we're putting on each game as a club. Not looking forward to anything except the next one."
The urgency was reflected in Matheny's decision to go to Beltran, slumping much of the second half, so early.
"They told me if a situation came up where guys were in scoring position, they were going to use me," Beltran said. "So I'm not surprised. The manager is the one making the calls and I just have to be ready when he needs me."
Beltran's double put St. Louis up 5-3, rewarding Jaime Garcia (5-7) for keeping it close. They took care of business against the lowly Astros, who absorbed their 102nd loss while leading for a single inning in the three-game series.
The Cardinals were 6-0 at home against Houston, their first season series sweep in St. Louis since 1996.
Houston did its best to hang tough.
"It definitely was a good series for us," said Justin Maxwell , who had an RBI double and two nice catches in right field. "We know what they're playing for over there. We're not going to hand anything to anyone."
"We're going to see them again next week, so hopefully, we can take some games from them," he said.
Bud Norris (5-13) allowed five runs on five hits and five walks in 5 1-3 innings for Houston after getting sent back to the team hotel Wednesday night because of flu-like symptoms. He's 0-12 with a 6.34 ERA in 18 starts since May 21 but with a lot of hard luck, too. He's had eight quality starts in his last 13 outings.
"I wasn't very good all around," Norris said. "I gave it everything I had. It's been a tough couple of days for me."
The Cardinals topped 3 million in attendance for the ninth consecutive season and 16th time in franchise history with paid attendance of 34,788.
Craig also doubled and has three homers and 15 RBIs in 11 games against the Astros this year. He's a career .412 hitter against the Astros with six homers and 24 RBIs in 20 games.
"He comes through in those big situations," Matheny said. "He can just flat hit, that's all there is to it."
Jason Motte finished for his 38th save in 45 chances and third of the series after the Astros tested the setup men.
Fernando Salas struck out Jose Altuve and pinch hitter Brett Wallace with the bases loaded to end the eighth after Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski combined to issue three walks. Edward Mujica surrendered an RBI single to Brandon Barnes in the seventh.
The biggest worry going forward is overloading the bullpen. Motte has pitched in the last five games, and Boggs, the setup man, has worked in three straight since coming back from a minor back ailment.
"Hopefully I'll feel pretty good tomorrow and I can get back out there," Boggs said. "It was just one of those days when they were being pretty patient.
"I certainly felt like I could have gotten a ground ball out of the next guy."
Norris, who entered the game 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in St. Louis, walked Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma with one out in the sixth and was lifted after throwing 111 pitches. Both scored easily on Beltran's drive off Wesley Wright to the base of the wall in left-center.
Beltran was batting .296 with an NL-leading 65 RBIs at the All-Star break but is hitting just .229 with 24 RBIs since while dealing with a sore right knee and sore right hand. He's begun to pick it up lately, going 9 for 19 during a six-game hitting streak.
"I'm fine, brother," Beltran said. "There's no excuses. Right now, these days there's not many ballplayers feeling 100 percent, so I'm good to go."
Garcia is 2-5 with a 5.67 ERA in 10 road starts, but 3-2 with a 2.84 in eight home starts.
NOTES: Maxwell made an excellent sliding catch on Kozma's foul popup near the stands down the RF line, upending 1B Brandon Laird in the process. Laird stayed in the game after a visit from the trainer and interim manager Tony DeFrancesco. ... RHP Chris Carpenter makes his season debut in Chicago Friday, opposing the Cubs' Chris Volstad (3-10, 6.26). RHP Edgar Gonzalez (2-1, 4.40) opposes LHP Jeff Locke (0-1, 5.49) as the Astros begin a three-game series in Pittsburgh. ... Maxwell is 5 for 8 against Garcia with a homer and four RBIs.