The St. Louis Cardinals are looking to pad their slim lead for a wild-card spot, and they’re already capitalizing on an advantageous schedule.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are their closest pursuer, but mired in an untimely funk.
The Cardinals will try to widen their lead for a playoff spot by beating the Dodgers for a fifth straight game Friday night at Chavez Ravine.
St. Louis (76-68) holds the league’s second wild-card position, two games ahead of Los Angeles (74-70) with Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Arizona lurking not far behind.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they’re in position to begin putting together a strong stretch in the hopes of starting to pull away from the pack.
After facing the Dodgers in this four-game set, St. Louis’ next nine games include six with Houston and three with Chicago, division rivals who also have the NL’s worst records.
Before that, the Cardinals will try to continue distancing themselves from Los Angeles, which has dropped seven of eight while scoring 14 runs and hitting .210.
St. Louis got this series off to positive start, winning 2-1 on Thursday. The Cardinals are now looking to win five in a row against Los Angeles in a single season for the first time since taking all seven games in 2006.
“It’s definitely a dogfight,” said Allen Craig, who drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh.
Craig may continue playing a part in that success since he’s hitting .417 with 13 RBIs in 12 career meetings. He’s gone 6 for 10 with one homer while plating four runs in three road games.
The first baseman is also 4 for 6 with two doubles and a homer versus Dodgers scheduled starter Chris Capuano.
Catcher Yadier Molina is hitting .415 over his last 11 visits to Dodger Stadium after getting three hits Thursday.
Joe Kelly (5-6, 3.51), a native of Anaheim, Calif., is slated to get the ball in Los Angeles for the first time.
The rookie right-hander has been solid over his last two outings, going 1-0 while allowing four runs and 10 hits in 12 2-3 innings. He was impressive in his most recent trip to the mound Sunday, yielding two runs in six innings of a 5-4 win in 10 over Milwaukee.
“He’s been obviously a pleasant surprise throughout the season for us,” manager Mike Matheny told the team’s official website. “He continues to make adjustments. That’s something he does well. He can adjust to being a ground ball pitcher or someone who tries to strike somebody out.”
Kelly allowed three runs - two earned - in the second inning and was backed by one run before leaving after the sixth of a 5-3 defeat to Los Angeles on July 23.
The Dodgers will try to get to him again after batting .164 with three runs during their current four-game slide.
“The pitchers are doing their job, but we’re not scoring runs,” said Matt Kemp, who is 3 for 24 in his last six games. “One run is not going to win games in series like this, so we’ve got to find a way to get the job done. I can’t really explain what’s going on.”
Offense may be necessary with Capuano (11-10, 3.59) taking the mound since he’s 1-5 with a 6.09 ERA in 10 starts against the Cardinals. He was hit hard in the last meeting, surrendering six runs and 11 hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 7-4 loss at St. Louis on July 26.
The left-hander enters this matchup with an 0-2 record and 5.93 ERA in five starts since a win at Miami on Aug. 12.
Capuano gave up two runs in seven innings while not getting a decision in Saturday’s 3-2 win at San Francisco.