St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was understandably discouraged after his team was swept in a particularly disheartening series earlier this week.
The opener of a set against the Houston Astros, however, gave La Russa reason for optimism.
The Cardinals look to build on a dominant performance and close the gap on first place in the NL Central as they continue a three-game series Saturday night in Houston.
St. Louis (46-40) came into this series after dropping three straight in Colorado, blowing late leads in the first two and failing to keep pace with Cincinnati in the race for the Central title.
The Cardinals, though, rebounded in strong fashion Friday night, routing the Astros 8-0 behind eight strong innings from Adam Wainwright(notes) and big performances from Matt Holliday(notes) and Albert Pujols(notes), each of whom homered and drove in three runs.
“You pitch to Albert there’s potential for damage and you put an extra base runner with what’s Matt’s capable of doing, you’re talking about a lot of crooked numbers for our team,” said La Russa, whose club pulled within two games of the Reds. “If we get that going in the second half of the season, we’re a different-looking team.”
Though the Cardinals have lost four of seven, they’ve batted .285 and averaged 6.1 runs in that stretch.
Holliday has been a major catalyst lately, batting .389 with four homers, eight RBIs and six runs scored over his last four games. However, he’s hitting .185 against the Astros (35-52) this season after batting .394 against them in 2009.
Holliday’s struggles helped Houston win four of its first six meetings with St. Louis before Friday, when the Astros were shut out for the ninth time this season and third time in seven games. Houston is 1 for 39 with runners in scoring position over the last seven contests.
The Astros will try to bounce back behind Brett Myers(notes) (5-6, 3.57 ERA), who has set a franchise record by lasting at least six innings in each of his first 17 starts to begin a season. Myers limited San Diego to two runs and four hits in six innings Saturday, failing to get a decision as Houston lost 3-2 on a walk-off single.
Myers has a 4.90 career ERA against the Cardinals, but he’s posted a 2.08 ERA while splitting two meetings this season.
Jeff Suppan(notes) (0-4, 6.44) will take the mound for St. Louis in search of his first win since Sept. 19 against Houston. The veteran right-hander is 0-6 with a 7.47 ERA in 22 games - nine starts - since then, including a 4-2 loss to Arizona in his last outing June 30.
Suppan gave up four runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings in his fourth start since moving back into the rotation.
He’s 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in four games - three starts - against Houston since the start of the 2009 season.