The St. Louis Cardinals have gotten back on track by taking advantage of matchups with two of the worst teams in the majors.
The Cardinals will try to keep rolling by registering an eighth consecutive home win over the AL-worst Houston Astros on Wednesday night.
Before its four-game win streak, St. Louis (54-34) had dropped eight of 11 and turned a three-game lead over Pittsburgh in the NL Central into a two-game deficit. The Cardinals have moved back in front by 1 1/2 games over the Pirates by sweeping NL-worst Miami and opening their two-game set against Houston (32-58) with a 9-5 win.
"We talked about making a strong push here," manager Mike Matheny told the team's website. "It's not the finish line, but I think all of you appreciate how important the All-Star break is for these guys. ... It's something for us to push through."
While Yadier Molina - the NL's leading hitter - was largely quiet in his return from knee inflammation, Matt Carpenter went 3 for 4 and drove in three runs. Allen Craig contributed three hits and two RBIs for St. Louis, which is batting .298 with 21 runs scored in its last four games.
Craig is hitting .413 with 19 RBIs in his last 18 games, and Carpenter is batting .361 with 15 RBIs in his past 17.
"This was a full offensive game from top to bottom all the way through the lineup," Carpenter said. "It was impressive."
The two players will try to pad those numbers while helping Shelby Miller (9-6, 2.80 ERA) earn his second straight win to open this month. The right-hander gave up two runs over six innings in a 12-2 road victory over the Angels last Wednesday after going 0-2 with an 11.05 ERA in his final two games in June.
"I felt like it got a little bit of life back (on the fastball) compared to the starts that I've had," Miller told the team's website. "I feel like it was a little bit stronger tonight. I felt like I had control of the game out there and it felt better."
In his first start against Houston, Miller will face a team that's batted .202 while losing nine of 11. The Astros have also hit .211 while dropping 12 of their past 14 matchups with their former division rivals.
Houston, though, showed a little fight Tuesday by scoring four times in the ninth inning.
"That's a tribute to the guys in this room. They're not going to quit. They are going to battle until the end," manager Bo Porter said.
If Houston's woes at the plate continue, that could make it difficult for Jordan Lyles (4-3, 3.87) to win for the first time in four starts. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 6.32 ERA in his last three games after going 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA in his previous seven.
Lyles, though, had a solid performance Thursday against Tampa Bay. He gave up two runs over 6 2-3 innings in a 7-5 defeat.
This will be his first appearance against St. Louis.
|July 09, 2013||Ronny Cedeno||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left toe|
|June 29, 2013||Justin Maxwell||7-Day DL||Mild concussion|
|June 25, 2013||Justin Maxwell||Day-to-Day||Mild concussion|
|June 21, 2013||Trevor Crowe||15-Day DL||Sprained AC joint in right shoulder|
|May 26, 2013||Edgar Gonzalez||15-Day DL||Strained right shoulder|
|May 21, 2013||Bud Norris||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back spasms|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|July 02, 2013||Matt Holliday||Day-to-Day||Stiff neck/back|
|May 26, 2013||John Gast||15-Day DL||Left shoulder tightness|
|May 26, 2013||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder soreness|
|May 25, 2013||John Gast||Day-to-Day||Left game - left shoulder tightness|
|May 21, 2013||Fernando Salas||15-Day DL||Right shoulder irritation|
|May 21, 2013||Fernando Salas||15-Day DL||Right shoulder irritation|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Matt Carpenter welcomes it when teams bring in a left-handed reliever to face him. In fact, he almost thrives on it.
The left-handed Carpenter hit a two-run home run off lefty Wesley Wright (0-3) and Matt Holliday drove in two with a two-out hit to help the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Houston Astros 5-4 Wednesday night.
"I've always felt, my whole career, even as an amateur, like I see lefties pretty well," said Carpenter, who earned his first All-Star Game selection this year. "I try to take the same approach and just get a good pitch to hit and try to put a good swing on it."
Carpenter's batting average is nearly 40 points lower against lefties (.294 versus.333 against right-handers), but four of his nine home runs this season have come against southpaws.
His homer in the seventh gave the win to Seth Maness (5-1). Tony Cruz got hit by starter Jordan Lyles ' first pitch of the inning and one out later Carpenter put a 2-1 pitch into the right field stands.
"I think he takes it personal that they come in thinking that's something he'd have more of a weakness with," manager Mike Matheny said. "There's some guys who are just highly motivated and I think that's one of the things he takes a lot pride in, is putting together a tough at-bat so they just don't start firing left-handers against us."
Maness gave up two hits and a run in two innings of relief. He struck out three.
Edward Mujica earned his 25th save in 26 tries. He has appeared in six consecutive games, going 1-1 with four saves.
Lyles gave up four runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings. He struck out two and walked two. Lyles hasn't won a game since beating Milwaukee on June 18.
Astros manager Bo Porter said he knew his starter would only face the first two batters in the seventh.
"That was a totally left-on-left decision and you look at the stress of the innings in which he had gotten to that point," Porter said. "I sent him back out there with the notion he was going to face Cruz, he was going to face the pinch hitter ( Yadier Molina ) and Wesley was going to be ready for Carpenter."
Cardinals starter Shelby Miller needed 94 pitches to labor through five innings. He gave up three earned runs, walked five and struck out five. He had a total of six full counts, coming back to strike out Jason Castro and getting Brett Wallace to ground out.
"It was a rough one for me," Miller said. "I didn't have anything going for me. I couldn't throw strikes or much of anything. I just tried to keep the team in it as much as I could with what I had. It wasn't much, but five innings, three runs and the offense picks you up.
"These guys never cease to amaze me when they go out there and do the things that they do."
Wallace, who had four hits and scored a run, drove in Jose Altuve in the seventh to give Houston a 4-3 lead.
Holliday's single in the fifth tied the score at 3-3. His slap to right field drove in Cruz and Shane Robinson , who had a pinch hit single in place of Miller.
Allen Craig walked to open the second and scored on Matt Adams ' single. Adams has five RBIs in in his past six games.
The Cardinals swept their five-game homestand with three victories over Miami before taking both against Houston. The home sweep comes on the heels of a 7-11 stretch that included three wins over the Chicago Cubs , who host the Cardinals in a four-game set starting Thursday.
"This is a huge five-game stretch for us to win, come out here and win all these games at home, to get on a roll right before the All-Star break," Carpenter said. "Hopefully we can continue it in Chicago."
Chris Carter hit his 18th home run just over the right field fence to open the second. Houston then used a Wallace single, two walks and an error for a 2-0 lead. The Astros took a 3-1 lead after Castro hit a ground rule double and J.D. Martinez drove him in with a single in the fifth.
NOTES: Cardinals C Cruz got his third start in the past four games in place of All-Star catcher and league-leading batter Yadier Molina , who is nursing a sore right knee. He's gone 3 of 9 in that span. ... Molina struck out as a pinch hitter in the seventh. ... Wallace, former first-round pick of the Cardinals, is 7 for 18 with five RBIs and four runs in four games this season against St. Louis. . Porter said after the game the Astros will call up one of their top prospects, 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart , to make his major league debut Friday at Tampa Bay. Dallas Keuchel will be pushed to Saturday with Erik Bedard starting on Sunday. . The Astros have lost 13 of their past 15 games against their former NL Central division rivals.