The St. Louis Cardinals are ready to go on the road as they continue their climb back toward playoff contention.
The Cardinals start a seven-game trip Monday night with the first of three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
St. Louis (78-67) completed a three-game sweep of Atlanta with its fifth straight win, 6-3 on Sunday. The Cardinals pulled within 4 1/2 games of the wild card-leading Braves, and they trail NL Central-leading Milwaukee by six games.
Manager Tony La Russa’s club has 16 games left.
“I feel like we are (in the race) if we keep winning,” La Russa said. “It’s exciting baseball. Guys have come through all over the roster. We got a shot.”
The Cardinals have not won six straight since an eight-game run July 11-21, 2010. They travel to face major league-leading Philadelphia for four games after this series, and know they have little margin for error.
“It doesn’t mean anything if you go and you don’t have a good road trip,” slugger Albert Pujols(notes) said. “We’re just going to continue playing and at the end of the road trip we’ll see where we are.”
St. Louis is 7-6 against Pittsburgh (66-80) this year, splitting six games at PNC Park.
Some hot hitters are looking to carry over strong homestands to the road. Jon Jay(notes) went 13 for 27 with two homers and nine runs scored during the nine-game stretch while Lance Berkman(notes) was 12 for 30 with five RBIs.
“It’s still a very daunting challenge,” Berkman told the Cardinals’ official website. “We’ve entered the realm of possibility, but we’ve just entered it.”
Catcher Yadier Molina(notes), meanwhile, is 13 for 36 (.361) with three homers and eight RBIs against Pittsburgh this year. Molina ended a 3-for-19 slide with three hits and three RBIs in Sunday’s victory.
The Cardinals will start Kyle Lohse(notes) (13-8, 3.59 ERA), who is 6-1 with a 4.08 ERA over his last seven outings, in the series opener. Lohse gave up four hits over six scoreless innings last Tuesday in a 4-2 victory over Milwaukee.
The right-hander is 7-2 with a 3.62 ERA in 13 career starts against Pittsburgh, including 2-1 with a 3.75 ERA in four this year.
The Pirates are two losses away from extending their record streak of consecutive losing seasons to 19. Pittsburgh has dropped eight of 12 overall, including a weekend sweep at home to Florida in which it got outscored 20-5.
Brad Lincoln(notes) (1-2, 3.53) will oppose Lohse as he makes his second career start against St. Louis. His first one was stellar, as he yielded six hits over six innings of a 7-0 victory Aug. 27 at Busch Stadium.
The right-hander is making his sixth start of 2011, going 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA in the first five. He gave up two runs over six innings last Tuesday in a 4-1 defeat to Houston.