The St. Louis Cardinals are glad to be back atop the NL Central standings. Manager Tony La Russa is even more satisfied with his team’s record.
The division-leading Cardinals look to win six straight for the first time in two seasons Monday night when they open a four-game set against a Philadelphia Phillies team that’s lost its last three road series.
Trailing Cincinnati by one game coming out of the All-Star break, St. Louis (51-41) leapfrogged the Reds in the standings Sunday with a 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rookie Allen Craig(notes) - starting at first base for Albert Pujols(notes) - drove in three runs, and Matt Holliday(notes) had the game-winning single in the ninth inning as the Cardinals scored five times in the final two frames.
“The most significant thing is that we’re 10 games over .500,” La Russa said.
The last time St. Louis was 11 games above .500 was last season when it finished a division-best 91-71.
Looking to snap a four-game home losing streak to Philadelphia and win six straight for the first time since Sept. 23-28, 2008, the Cardinals will give the ball to Blake Hawksworth(notes) (3-5, 4.73 ERA).
The right-hander, who is 2-2 with a 4.97 ERA in five starts this season, went 5 1-3 innings in a 4-2 win at Houston on July 11, giving up two runs and seven hits.
“Location wasn’t its best,” said Hawksworth, who settled down after allowing two first-inning runs. “First two innings were tough on the pitch count, too. Glad we got the win going into the break. That’s the most important thing, but I have to get better.”
This will be Hawksworth’s first start against Philadelphia. He is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in two relief appearances versus the Phillies this season.
Philadelphia (48-43), making its first visit to Busch Stadium since May 4-5, 2009, has lost seven of nine on the road after dropping three of four to the Chicago Cubs. The Phillies hit seven homers in the series but batted just .232.
“We haven’t hit for a long time,” manager Charlie Manuel told MLB.com. “We hit spurts where we come out of it. On a given night, we might score some runs, but it seems like we fall right back into it. Inconsistent play. It’s what we talk about every day.”
Philadelphia will look to get back on track with Kyle Kendrick(notes) (5-3, 4.44) on the mound. The right-hander, who threw one inning of scoreless relief in Thursday’s 12-6 loss to the Cubs, is 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four career starts versus St. Louis. He surrendered six hits in seven innings of a 4-0 victory over the visiting Cardinals on May 5.
Pujols will likely return to the lineup Monday, but he is batting just .202 with two homers in 28 career home games versus Philadelphia.
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard(notes), a St. Louis native and former Southwest Missouri State standout, has fared much better in this matchup at Busch Stadium, hitting .381 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 17 career games. Howard, who has four home runs and eight RBIs in the last four games, was 3 for 15 with seven strikeouts as the Phillies won three of four at home versus the Cardinals in May.
St. Louis will try to win six in a row at home for the first time since Aug. 12-26.