If there ever was a time for the St. Louis Cardinals to play like reigning World Series champions, it has most certainly arrived.
The Cardinals try to snap a four-game losing streak and keep both teams ahead of them in the NL Central in sight Tuesday night when they begin a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds.
Manager Tony La Russa’s team was supposed to have an off day Monday, but instead St. Louis (69-72) had to make up a postponed game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, where the Cardinals were pounded 12-3. They are three games behind NL Central co-leaders Milwaukee and Chicago with 21 to play, and also host the Cubs in what could be a make-or-break four-game series this weekend that includes a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.
La Russa was adamant this game will be quickly forgotten by the time they land in Cincinnati.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll be ready to play in Cincinnati,” he said. “I know we’re going to play hard enough, but then you have to play good enough. We were close in Arizona. This was a game that got out of control. It was ugly.”
Joel Pineiro was the latest starter to struggle for the Cardinals, who have given up 31 runs during their current skid.
Mark Mulder (0-1, 13.50 ERA) hopes his second start since coming back from off-season shoulder surgery will be better than the first. The left-hander threw just 59 pitches Wednesday in an 8-2 defeat to Pittsburgh, giving up six runs and eight hits in just four innings.
“I’m here to win a ballgame and tonight was very disappointing because of the way I felt when the game started,” said Mulder, who had an impressive nine-pitch first inning. “I was walking off after the first feeling great.”
Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols doubled for the sixth straight game, and is 10-for-22 (.455) during a six-game hitting streak. While Pujols is batting .378 in 11 games versus the Reds in 2007, he has not homered in his last 17 games overall and still has 30.
Pujols is a lifetime .348 hitter at the Great American Ballpark with nine homers in 34 games.
Any designs the Reds (64-79) had on winning the NL Central fell by the wayside after they’ve lost nine of their last 13 games following a five-game winning streak. Cincinnati dropped the final two games of a three-game set against Milwaukee, including a 10-5 defeat Sunday in which rookie starter Phil Dumatrait allowed three solo homers to start the game and failed to retire any of the five batters he faced.
“Phil just didn’t have any command on his pitches, and the Brewers let him know about it,” Reds interim manager Pete Mackanin said. “That might be my quickest hook ever.”
Matt Belisle (7-8, 5.44) will try to extend his personal winning streak to three decisions despite a 6.04 ERA in five starts over that span. The right-hander escaped without a loss on Sept. 4, when the New York Mets tagged him for five runs and six hits in 5 1-3 innings of an 11-7 loss.
Belisle has struggled at home, going 2-7 with a 6.41 ERA in 14 starts and allowing 15 homers in just 78 2-3 innings. He is 1-0 with a 0.95 ERA in nine appearances, including one start, lifetime against the Cardinals, giving up seven runs - two earned - in 19 innings.
The Cardinals have won nine of 12 games between the teams, and completed a three-game sweep at home Aug. 31-Sept. 2.