While the St. Louis Cardinals have muscled their way back into the NL wild-card race, they can reduce their deficit to one game Thursday afternoon.
The Cardinals have a chance to pick up a half-game in the standings by completing a three-game sweep of the New York Mets.
St. Louis improved to 12-2 in its last 14 games following Wednesday’s 6-5 win. Combined with Atlanta’s 4-0 loss to Florida, the Cardinals (86-69) are 1 1/2 games behind the Braves for the wild card.
Atlanta is idle Thursday before visiting Washington on Friday night.
“This is certainly what you want to see,” outfielder Lance Berkman(notes) said. “We haven’t done anything yet. We’ve made it awful close and we have a week left basically to play. But certainly, this is the time of year to be playing well.”
The Cardinals also appear to have an easier path to reach the postseason for the ninth time since Tony La Russa took over as manager in 1996. Starting Friday, St. Louis has three games remaining with Chicago and three with Houston - the bottom two teams in the NL Central.
After visiting the Nationals for three games, the Braves host NL-leading Philadelphia for three to close the season.
“The real fun in this game is to play meaningful games this time of year and you have the most fun playing in October,” La Russa said. “The guys are having a lot of fun because we played ourselves back into this. You can feel it.”
David Freese(notes) had a two-run triple in the first inning Wednesday and hit a three-run homer with two outs in the seventh to erase a 4-3 deficit. Freese had driven in five runs in his previous 12 games.
The right-hander has alternated wins and losses in his last four starts and is coming off his third-shortest outing of the season Saturday at Philadelphia. He allowed two runs and five hits with five walks in 3 1-3 innings of a 9-2 loss.
That dropped Westbrook to 8-4 with a 3.61 ERA on the road. He’s fared poorly at Busch Stadium, going 4-5 with a 5.59 ERA.
Westbrook will be opposed by Chris Capuano(notes) (11-12, 4.47), who won for the second time in nine starts as the Mets (73-82) beat Atlanta 12-2 on Friday. The left-hander gave up two runs and six hits in five innings.
Capuano is 5-5 with a 5.18 ERA in 14 games—13 starts—against St. Louis.
He has struggled in his last six starts away from home, going 2-4 with a 6.68 ERA. That’s driven up Capuano’s road ERA by more than a full run to 5.29.
Albert Pujols(notes) - 13 for 26 during a six-game hitting streak - is batting .567 (17 for 30) with four homers against Capuano. The three-time NL MVP’s average versus Capuano is his highest against any pitcher with a minimum of 30 at-bats.
New York’s Jose Reyes(notes) went 1 for 4 on Wednesday and is tied with Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun(notes) for the lead in the NL batting race at .330. No Met has ever won a batting title in the franchise’s 50-year history.
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