After losing ground in the NL wild-card race because of some missed opportunities at the plate, the St. Louis Cardinals look to bounce back as they close their three-game set against the Atlanta Braves on Sunday at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis (72-59) averaged 7.0 runs and batted .357 while winning six of eight games from Aug. 13-22. The Cardinals hit .367 with runners in scoring position in that stretch, including a 14-for-24 performance in an 18-3 win over the Braves in the series opener Friday night.
The Cardinals weren’t able to capitalize on their scoring opportunities Saturday, however, going 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position in an 8-4 loss that dropped St. Louis 3 1/2 games behind Milwaukee in the wild-card race.
“You’re not going to see everything fall like you did (Friday),” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, whose team is batting .328 with runners in scoring position in wins, compared to .203 in losses. “We had a lot of chances.”
The team’s overall struggles overshadowed another strong game from slugger Albert Pujols, who has three hits and three RBIs in each of the first two games of the series. Pujols, batting .365 in his career against Atlanta, is hitting .533 (16-for-30) with three homers, 10 RBIs and six runs scored during his seven-game hitting streak.
The Braves (57-73) snapped a season high-tying six-game skid with Saturday’s victory—their second in 13 games. Though they’re on pace for their worst finish since they went 65-97 in 1990, they insist they will compete the rest of the year.
“Hopefully, the fans can sit back and watch us today because we’re busting our butts,” outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. “We’re going to play hard.”
The Braves hope to build on Saturday’s victory by handing the ball to Jo-Jo Reyes (3-9, 5.18 ERA). The left-hander was sent down to Triple-A Richmond on July 28 after going 0-5 with an 8.74 ERA in his last six games—five starts. But he showed signs of improvement in his return Tuesday, holding the New York Mets to two runs and four hits in six innings of Atlanta’s 7-3 loss.
“You win as a team and you lose as a team,” Reyes told the Braves’ official Web site. “Yeah, I had a good outing, but it’s not fun losing.”
St. Louis starter Braden Looper (11-10, 3.94) can relate. The right-hander allowed one run and three hits in seven innings against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, suffering the 4-1 defeat.
“I feel good, but it just seems like it hasn’t been quite good enough,” he told the Cardinals’ official Web site. “I have to continue to work and continue to go out there and put up zeros.”
Looper, a reliever for most of his career, struggled in his first career start against Atlanta last season on July 21, giving up seven runs in 2 2-3 innings in a 14-6 loss. He fared better July 28 this year against the Braves, when he held them to two runs in seven innings of a 12-3 victory.
Reyes, meanwhile, is 0-1 with a 2.38 ERA in two career starts against St. Louis.