A key road trip against division rivals has gotten off to a good start for the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
St. Louis looks to move a step closer to .500 and continue its unexpected charge toward first place in the NL Central when it meets the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers in the second of a three-game set on Wednesday night.
Playing in what is arguably baseball’s weakest division this season, the Cardinals (56-60) ripped the Brewers 12-4 on Monday for their fifth win in six games. Pitcher Kip Wells, a 13-game loser coming in, settled down after allowing first-inning homers to Prince Fielder and Geoff Jenkins and had a two-run single during a six-run fifth.
“We’ve had certain times where it’s like, ‘This is a big week for us. This is a big month for us,’” Wells said. “We just haven’t necessarily put it together from top to bottom.”
The Cardinals remained third in the Central, but are within three games of the second-place Chicago Cubs and 4 1/2 back of the Brewers, who had the majors’ best record on May 9 when they were 24-10.
“I don’t think we ever counted them out,” said Brewers rookie third baseman Ryan Braun, who was a double short of the cycle Tuesday and is batting .417 (20-for-48) with three triples, five homers and 10 RBIs during an 11-game hitting streak.
“But at same time I feel like we’re still in first place. We’re still in a position we want to be in and we still control our own destiny.”
Following this series, the Cardinals meet the Cubs for four games starting Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
The Brewers (62-57), who still own the best home record in the majors at 39-21, will try to avoid their first three-game slide at Miller Park since April 4-7. They also hope rookie Yovani Gallardo (4-2, 4.20 ERA) can bounce back from the worst outing of his brief career.
Pitching in Colorado on Thursday, the right-hander was pounded for 11 runs and 12 hits in 2 2-3 innings in a 19-4 loss. In his previous seven starts, Gallardo had given up only 12 runs over 43 2-3 innings.
“It’s kind of tough, but I was going to stay out there as long as they let me stay out there and keep on battling,” Gallardo told the Brewers’ official Web site. “I tried to get as far as I could. It didn’t go too well.”
Gallardo started at St. Louis on July 29, but didn’t get a decision after allowing four runs and four hits through five innings of a 9-5 loss.
Joel Pineiro (1-1, 3.00) gets the start for St. Louis, and will face Milwaukee for the first time in his eight-year career.
Acquired from Boston on July 30 for a player to be named, Pineiro made his Busch Stadium debut on Friday a memorable one. He allowed four hits and struck out four over seven innings of the Cardinals’ 5-0 win, a game which saw from former pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel hit two home runs.
“It’s great for the team, great for him. It’s just amazing. I don’t know him well, but, from being on the outside, it’s a great story,” Pineiro said. “It’s amazing for him to come back like this. It doesn’t get any better.”
Ankiel, who hit three homers in his first four games after being recalled from the minors on Thursday, went 1-for-6 with three strikeouts on Tuesday.
Pineiro is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 17 appearances on the road this year. His only start came in his St. Louis debut on Aug. 4 at Washington, giving up five runs and seven hits in five innings of a 12-1 loss.
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