The St. Louis Cardinals are trying to play their way back into the NL Central race.
The Cardinals (39-43) moved to four games under .500 for the first time since June 6 with Thursday’s 3-2 win over Arizona. The defending World Series champions took three of four from the Diamondbacks and have won five of their last seven games.
They are in third place in the division, 7 1/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee.
“This is an important win for us,” manager Tony La Russa said. “How important depends on what happens this weekend.”
Juan Encarnacion homered Thursday for St. Louis, which turned a season-high five double plays in improving to .500 (20-20) at home. The Cardinals have scored 31 runs over their last five games even though slugger Albert Pujols is in the midst of one of the longest home run droughts of his career.
Pujols has gone a career-worst 19 games without a homer and has not connected in 62 at-bats. He went 68 at-bats without a homer in 2002.
The Cardinals will get an up-close look at another of the game’s premier sluggers in Bonds. The 42-year-old left fielder has hit 751 career homers, four shy of Hank Aaron’s all-time record.
He hit No. 751 Tuesday in the opener of a three-game series in Cincinnati, but sat out the next game to rest his sore legs and was held to a single in Thursday’s 6-3 loss. Bonds was selected as a starter for Tuesday’s All-Star game in San Francisco, but said that he will not participate in Monday’s Home Run Derby.
“Either way was fine with me,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “That was Barry’s decision. He’s doing what he thinks is the right thing to do. He could use the rest.”
The Giants (36-47) have dropped 13 of their last 19 games and gave up 18 runs in the series with the Reds. They swept a two-game set with the Cardinals April 18-19, ending a four-game losing streak against them.
San Francisco will hand the ball to Noah Lowry (8-6, 3.46 ERA), who is trying to win his third straight start. He has allowed one run in each of the two wins and went 6 2-3 innings in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Arizona.
However, both of those victories came at AT&T Park, and Lowry has had a tough time on the road this season. He is 1-5 with a 4.66 ERA in seven starts away from home.
Lowry is 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA in three career starts against the Cardinals, with the lone win coming on April 19, when he allowed two runs in seven innings of a 6-2 home victory.
St. Louis will counter with Mike Maroth (0-0, 5.23), who is making his third start and first at Busch Stadium since a June 22 trade that sent him from Detroit to the Cardinals. He was sharp in his Cardinals debut on June 25, allowing one run in 7 1-3 innings in St. Louis’ 11-inning, 2-1 loss to the New York Mets.
However, he was pounded for five runs in just three innings of his team’s 11-7 win over Cincinnati on Sunday.
Maroth, who has never pitched in St. Louis, is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in two career starts against the Giants, but has not faced them since 2005. Bonds is 1-for-2 with a single and a walk against him.