After losing four out of five to the Cubs, the Cardinals now stand in third place in the NL Central, one game behind Houston and a half-game behind Chicago.
“A couple of these games, we’ve had a lead, and we didn’t hold the lead,” said catcher Chris Widger, who had an RBI double in Thursday’s 7-6 defeat. “If you hold those games, you come out of here two or three up. It feels like a missed opportunity.
“We’ve got 21 games left and we’re one game back. It’s no time to panic.”
Edgar Renteria has added to the Cardinals’ recent woes by suffering through a 1-for-17 slump. However, with his team needing to win games just about everyday, manager Tony La Russa has no choice but to continue to play his struggling shortstop.
“I think he’s played out,” La Russa said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if this was the first half of the season, I’d give him a couple days. But it’s not. So you push. And I’ll be looking to give him a day over the weekend.”
The Reds have been just as bad, falling into last place in the Central after dropping two of three to Milwaukee earlier in the week.
However, Cincinnati is 8-5 against St. Louis this season, its only winning record against a division foe.
“I always look forward to playing (at St. Louis),” said Reds first baseman Sean Casey, who expects to return to the lineup Friday after resting his sore left groin. “The Cardinals are in the midst of the pennant race and the atmosphere is going to be good.”
STANDINGS: Reds - 6th place, 13 GB, NL Central. Cardinals - 3rd place, 1 GB, NL Central.
REDS PROBABLE STARTER: Aaron Harang (3-2, 4.50 ERA). The right-hander was on the short end of a 6-3 defeat to St. Louis on Saturday, allowing five runs— four earned—and eight hits over six innings. After winning his first three starts for the Reds this season, Harang has dropped two straight.
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTER: Sterling Hitchcock (2-0, 0.75 ERA). Hitchcock is making his third appearance and second start for the Cardinals, and so far has been quite effective. He has allowed just one run over his first 12 innings. In his last start, he tossed six superb innings in a 5-0 win at Cincinnati on Sunday. He is 2-3 with a 6.82 ERA in 11 appearances, including six starts, against the Reds in his career.
SEASON SERIES: Reds, 8-5.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Reds - 1B Casey is hitting .331 against left-handers this season. … OF Ruben Mateo, still bothered by a sore right hamstring, has missed five straight games. … Since winning their first six games against St. Louis, the Reds have dropped five of the last seven. The Cardinals have won each game by at least three runs. Cardinals - OF Jim Edmonds missed his second straight game Thursday with a knee bruise. His status is day-to-day. … OF J.D. Drew started his second straight game Thursday after being activated on Monday from the 15-day disabled list. He is 7-for-13 since returning. … The Cardinals are 11-23 in one-run games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Reds - 29-39 on the road; Cardinals - 40-28 at home.
INJURIES: Reds - SS Barry Larkin (finger), 15-day DL; INF Brandon Larson (shoulder), 60-day DL; OF Dunn (hand), 15-day DL; RHP Jose Acevedo (ankle), 15-day DL; RHP Ryan Dempster (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Jimmy Haynes (back), 15-day DL; LHP Mark Watson (kidney), 15-day DL; RHP Luke Prokopec (elbow), 60-day DL; OF Ken Griffey Jr. (ankle), 60-day DL; OF Austin Kearns (shoulder), 60-day DL; OF Reggie Taylor (shoulder), 60-day DL. Cardinals - OF Edmonds (knee), day-to-day; C Steve Torrealba (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Jimmy Journell (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Lance Painter (calf), 15-day DL; RHP Kiko Calero (knee), 60-day DL; RHP Chris Carpenter (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Gene Stechschulte (shoulder), 60-day DL.