The St. Louis Cardinals can no longer win the NL Central. Securing the wild card is also starting to look unlikely.
With Matt Holliday(notes) expected to return to the lineup for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Cardinals will try to avoid a third straight loss Saturday when they continue their series with the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals (86-71) dropped the series opener 5-1 to Chicago (70-87) on Friday, eliminating them from the Central race after Milwaukee defeated Florida to clinch its first division title in 29 years.
St. Louis has dropped two straight following a 12-2 run to fall three games behind wild card leader Atlanta with five to play.
“We started this run weeks ago, everybody counted us out a long time ago and we battled back to give ourselves a chance,” starting pitcher Chris Carpenter said. “… We’re going to be here ready to go. Everybody is excited.”
The Cardinals have to be excited about the return of Holliday, who has missed nine games with a tendon injury on the middle finger of his right hand. He took batting practice Friday and was on deck in the eighth inning of the series opener before St. Louis grounded into its third double play to end the inning.
“Anything but a double play, that would have been fun to see,” manager Tony La Russa said.
Watching Holliday face Saturday’s scheduled Cubs starter Rodrigo Lopez(notes) (6-6, 4.71 ERA) could also be fun for the Cardinals. The left fielder is 7 for 15 with four doubles and a homer off the right-hander.
Lopez, though, has won his last two starts after striking out a season-high seven over six strong innings of Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Houston. He’s looking to use his final start of the season as an audition for 2012.
“I’m trying to do a job this year and trying to find a spot somewhere,” said Lopez, who last won three consecutive starts May 25-June 4, 2006, while with Baltimore.
Lopez is 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA and a .404 opponent batting average in two starts and two relief appearances versus St. Louis this season. Coming out of the bullpen June 5, allowed walkoff home run to Albert Pujols(notes) in the Cardinals’ 3-2, 10-inning home win.
Pujols, tied for the NL lead with 37 homers, is 6 for 18 with three homers off Lopez.
Lohse has yielded two earned runs or fewer in seven of his last 10 starts after tossing 7 1-3 innings of one-run ball in Monday’s 4-3 victory at Philadelphia.
“You just can’t give him enough credit,” La Russa said of Lohse, 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two starts against the Cubs this season. “We had our best defensive team out there and we kicked it around (with two errors). He picked everybody up all day.”
Shortstop Rafael Furcal(notes) made a critical error in an 8-6 loss to the New York Mets on Thursday when St. Louis gave up a four-run ninth-inning lead, but could be in Saturday’s lineup after La Russa gave Nick Punto(notes) the nod Friday.
Furcal is 10 for 26 with two doubles and two homers off Lopez.