The St. Louis Cardinals are coasting to the NL Central title with the best record in the major leagues.
The last thing they need now is a lingering injury to one of their top starters.
With Chris Carpenter scratched due to back stiffness, Danny Haren will make his second start of the season as the Cardinals complete a three-game series with the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.
With the addition of Larry Walker, the Cardinals clearly have the best offense in the NL—and perhaps the majors.
While that potent offense has played the biggest role in helping St. Louis become a dominant team this season, starting pitching likely will determine how much success the Cardinals have in the playoffs.
After missing all of last season due to shoulder surgery, Carpenter has been a very pleasant surprise for St. Louis. The 29-year-old right-hander ranks among the NL leaders with 12 wins and has limited opponents to a .250 batting average.
Carpenter, however, left his last start Tuesday at Florida after 2 1-3 innings because of tightness in his lower back. With his back still a source of trouble, Carpenter was scratched and will be replaced by Haren, who allowed 10 runs over 3 2-3 innings in a 12-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs on June 10 in his only start this season.
Despite two home runs from Albert Pujols, St. Louis was cooled off with a 9-7 loss Saturday, dropping it to 8-3 in its last 11.
“Those were two teams standing toe to toe,” Atlanta’s Chipper Jones said. “You had a little bit of everything, a lot of power, a lot of home runs, good defense, bad defense. It was just a roller-coaster ride from a momentum standpoint.”
The loss was just the third in 14 games away from home for the Cardinals, whose road record (39-19) is better than the home record of every team in the majors except the New York Yankees.
Jones hit two home runs and Rafael Furcal had four hits, including a homer, for the Braves, who are 21-7 since the All-Star break, tying the Cardinals for the best mark in the majors.
Atlanta, 12-0-2 in its last 14 series, has opened a season-high eight-game lead over Philadelphia in the NL East.