The St. Louis Cardinals are firmly in control of the NL Central, leading the division by eight games. With 18 of their next 24 contests at home, they have a chance to remove any real suspense from the race.
St. Louis looks to extend its advantage in the division as it tries to win its fifth straight home series against the Houston Astros starting Tuesday night.
A 5-2 victory over San Diego on Sunday capped a 5-2 West Coast trip as the Cardinals (72-54) retained their season-high eight-game edge atop the NL Central.
Albert Pujols(notes) hit his major league-leading 40th home run, John Smoltz(notes) pitched five scoreless innings in his Cardinals debut and St. Louis improved to 19-6 since a 2-5 stretch from July 20-26.
The Cardinals, opening a nine-game homestand, have won five straight series at Busch Stadium, going 12-4 during that span.
St. Louis has won four consecutive home series versus Houston since the teams split a four-game set from Sept. 20-23, 2007.
The right-hander yielded two runs and four hits over seven innings of a 3-2 loss at Los Angeles on Wednesday. He did not allow a hit until the sixth inning, but didn’t receive the decision after giving up two homers in the seventh.
Wainwright, going for his career-high 15th win, is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts against Houston this year. He lost 2-0 to the visiting Astros on Aug. 2, falling to 6-1 with a 2.17 ERA versus Houston after giving up two runs over seven innings.
The Astros (61-63) had dropped seven straight at Busch prior to that victory.
Rodriguez beat Florida 4-1 on Thursday, pitching eight innings to win his fourth straight home start. He gave up one run and four hits.
“He had a lot of first-pitch strikes, and when he’s down with his fastball, he’s really tough to beat,” manager Cecil Cooper told the team’s official Web site.
Rodriguez has gone 1-2 with a 3.18 ERA in four starts in St. Louis.
Pence is 9 for 23 with a homer versus Wainwright.
The Cardinals are 5-4 against the Astros this year even though Pujols batted .133 in those games. He does have two homers and seven RBIs in the season series, but is 3 for 25 in his career versus Rodriguez.
The Astros, losers of 12 of 16 on the road, have not won a series away from Minute Maid Park since June 29-July 2.