The St. Louis Cardinals try to take a season series from the slumping Atlanta Braves for the first time in three years as they continue their pursuit of their fourth consecutive NL Central title Sunday.
St. Louis (62-64) has alternated wins with Atlanta (67-63) in six meetings this season after a 5-4 victory Saturday. The Cardinals hope to break their trend with the Braves in the last regular season matchup and win their first season series against them since taking four of six contests in 2004, when they won the first of a franchise record-tying three consecutive division titles.
The Cardinals, the reigning World Series champions, are in the hunt for another NL Central crown, despite sub-.500 record. They are in third place in the division, 1 1/2 games behind second-place Milwaukee and three in back of the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs close out a three-game set at Arizona on Sunday, while the Brewers are in San Francisco for their series finale.
St. Louis hopes Adam Wainwright (11-9, 3.97 ERA) can help them close those gaps in the playoff race with another quality start.
The right-hander is 1-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 22 innings over his last three starts. He worked in and out of trouble Tuesday, allowing two runs and nine hits with seven strikeouts in six innings of a 5-2 win over Florida.
“There’s a sense of desperation now in our clubhouse—and that’s good,” Wainwright said after the victory. “We come to the park with an air of confidence and everybody else in here can feel it. It’s like what we had going on last year.”
Wainwright, who moved into the rotation after spending 2006 in the bullpen, looks to build on his last start against Atlanta on July 20, when he held the Braves to one run and six hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings of a 4-2 win. Overall, the right-hander is 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in four outings against them.
He hopes Jason Isringhausen can help him improve on his team-leading win total. The closer has converted 12 consecutive save opportunities, allowing one run and striking out 11 in 13 innings during that span. He has saved each of the Cardinals’ last four victories, throwing five shutout innings.
Isringhausen has been nearly flawless against the Braves as a member of the Cards, going 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA and eight saves in as many chances over 13 outings.
Atlanta, which hopes to solve Wainwright and avoid facing Isringhausen, has lost seven of its last 10 games and fallen seven games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets and four behind San Diego in the wild-card race.
Part of the Braves’ troubles have stemmed from their struggling rotation. Atlanta’s starters have an 8.82 ERA in the last seven defeats, almost doubling their 4.54 season ERA, while giving up 11 home runs.
The 22-year-old rookie has not lasted past the third inning in each of his last two outings, allowing 10 runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings over that span.
“The stuff is there, the makeup is there,” Braves manager Bobby Cox told the team’s official Web site. “He just gets off track and just misses.”
Reyes’ best start thus far came against St. Louis on July 22, when he gave up one run and three hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-2 loss.