The St. Louis Cardinals have gotten back on track by taking advantage of matchups with two of the worst teams in the majors.
The Cardinals will try to keep rolling by registering an eighth consecutive home win over the AL-worst Houston Astros on Wednesday night.
Before its four-game win streak, St. Louis (54-34) had dropped eight of 11 and turned a three-game lead over Pittsburgh in the NL Central into a two-game deficit. The Cardinals have moved back in front by 1 1/2 games over the Pirates by sweeping NL-worst Miami and opening their two-game set against Houston (32-58) with a 9-5 win.
"We talked about making a strong push here," manager Mike Matheny told the team's website. "It's not the finish line, but I think all of you appreciate how important the All-Star break is for these guys. ... It's something for us to push through."
While Yadier Molina - the NL's leading hitter - was largely quiet in his return from knee inflammation, Matt Carpenter went 3 for 4 and drove in three runs. Allen Craig contributed three hits and two RBIs for St. Louis, which is batting .298 with 21 runs scored in its last four games.
Craig is hitting .413 with 19 RBIs in his last 18 games, and Carpenter is batting .361 with 15 RBIs in his past 17.
"This was a full offensive game from top to bottom all the way through the lineup," Carpenter said. "It was impressive."
The two players will try to pad those numbers while helping Shelby Miller (9-6, 2.80 ERA) earn his second straight win to open this month. The right-hander gave up two runs over six innings in a 12-2 road victory over the Angels last Wednesday after going 0-2 with an 11.05 ERA in his final two games in June.
"I felt like it got a little bit of life back (on the fastball) compared to the starts that I've had," Miller told the team's website. "I feel like it was a little bit stronger tonight. I felt like I had control of the game out there and it felt better."
In his first start against Houston, Miller will face a team that's batted .202 while losing nine of 11. The Astros have also hit .211 while dropping 12 of their past 14 matchups with their former division rivals.
Houston, though, showed a little fight Tuesday by scoring four times in the ninth inning.
"That's a tribute to the guys in this room. They're not going to quit. They are going to battle until the end," manager Bo Porter said.
If Houston's woes at the plate continue, that could make it difficult for Jordan Lyles (4-3, 3.87) to win for the first time in four starts. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 6.32 ERA in his last three games after going 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA in his previous seven.
Lyles, though, had a solid performance Thursday against Tampa Bay. He gave up two runs over 6 2-3 innings in a 7-5 defeat.
This will be his first appearance against St. Louis.
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