The St. Louis Cardinals’ recent play at home has helped them remain close to the NL Central lead.
Coming off a weekend sweep, the Cardinals look to win their sixth straight at Busch Stadium when they open a four-game set against the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday.
St. Louis (67-66) beat Cincinnati 3-2 on Sunday to sweep the Reds and improve to 15-4 in its last 19 games at Busch - where they are 37-29 this season.
The Cardinals, who are above .500 for the first time since April 15 when they were 6-5, remain in third place, two games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs and one half-game behind Milwaukee. Both the Cubs and Brewers won Sunday.
Rick Ankiel homered and drove in two runs Sunday for St. Louis, which will try for its fourth straight victory overall. Ankiel homered for the sixth time in 68 at-bats since being called up from Triple-A Memphis on Aug. 9. Five of the home runs have come at Busch.
The former struggling pitcher now is batting .353 (24-for-68) with 19 RBIs since joining the team last month and .467 (14-for-30) with 11 RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak.
“He’s come in and given us a tremendous lift and he’s definitely making it happen,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, whose club is 15-7 since Ankiel’s promotion.
Kip Wells (6-15, 5.50 ERA) looked as if he was headed in the right direction recently with wins in consecutive starts, but now will try to avoid losing his third straight start - and tying the Chicago White Sox’s Jose Contreras for most defeats in the majors - when he takes the ball for the Cardinals.
Wells allowed five runs and nine hits in six innings of a 7-0 loss on Wednesday at Houston.
“It’s just been predominantly a struggle, but having gone through a good stretch of a couple months where I’ve pitched well and trying to, if you have a tough one, bounce back,” Wells told the Cardinals’ official Web site.
The right-hander is 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in two career starts versus the Pirates, and allowed two runs in seven innings of a 5-3 victory over Pittsburgh on May 23. Wells pitched for Pittsburgh from 2002-06.
The Pirates will counter with Paul Maholm (10-14, 4.32) as he tries for his fourth straight winning decision. He allowed two runs and 10 hits while going seven innings for the third straight game, but didn’t factor in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 win over Cincinnati on Tuesday.
Though Maholm is second to Wells in the NL for losses, he is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA and a complete game in his last four starts.
“He’s really starting to look like a very good pitcher,” Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy told the Pirates’ official Web site. “This kid is going to be a good one.”
The left-hander is 1-2 with a 2.28 ERA in four career starts against the Cardinals, and 0-1 with a 3.27 ERA in two starts versus them this season.
Sanchez, the reigning NL batting champion, is 5-for-9 in his last two games and hitting .366 (15-for-41) against St. Louis in 2007.