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Cardinals-Astros Preview

AP - Sports

With the Houston Astros moving to the AL next season, Wednesday will mark their final divisional meeting with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals will be sad to see them go.

St. Louis looks to strengthen its postseason position and win its 11th in a row over the woeful Astros in the season finale at Minute Maid Park.

By beating Houston 4-0 on Tuesday, the Cardinals (84-71) padded their lead for the NL's second wild-card spot to 4 1/2 games over Los Angeles and Milwaukee with seven to play.

St. Louis was tied with the Dodgers on Sept. 16, but has won eight of nine since, with five of those victories coming over Houston (50-105).

The Cardinals haven't had much trouble with the Astros lately, outscoring them 66-18 in winning the last 10 meetings since a 9-8 loss June. 5. This is St. Louis' longest winning streak in the series, and the longest active winning streak by one team over another.

Yadier Molina, who had two hits and an RBI Wednesday, is batting .485 with two homers and seven runs driven in during the winning streak, while Allen Craig is hitting .366 with 11 RBIs and 11 runs.

Craig is also 5 for 9 with two home runs and a double in matchups this year with scheduled starter Bud Norris (5-13, 5.05 ERA), who is making his second straight start against the Cardinals after allowing five runs in 5 1-3 innings in last Thursday's 5-4 loss. Craig hit a three-run homer in that one.

That loss extended Norris' winless drought to 18 starts since beating the Chicago Cubs on May 21. The Astros have lost 17 of those games.

"I'm not thinking about it," said Norris, who is 0-12 with a 6.17 ERA during his losing streak. "Every day is a new day and I've got to get better every day."

The right-hander has faced the Cardinals three times during his drought, recording a 6.23 ERA in losing each.

St. Louis counters with Chris Carpenter (0-0, 3.60), who is permitted to surpass the 100-pitch mark in his second start of the season.

Appearing for the first time since winning Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, Carpenter, who had surgery July 19 to relieve a nerve ailment that caused numbness up and down the right side of his body, gave up two runs and five hits in five innings against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. The righty threw 77 pitches and was in line for the win until Darwin Barney hit a tying two-run homer with two outs in the ninth of St. Louis' eventual 5-4, 11-inning loss.

"My stuff wasn't as sharp as I'd like and it wasn't as sharp as it's been in the simulated games,'' Carpenter said. "Hopefully my stuff will get better and sharper as I get out there more often.

"This is something to build off.''

Facing an Astros team that has totaled two runs during a three-game skid and is last in the majors with 552 runs should allow the 37-year-old to get more comfortable.

All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve, one of the few bright spots in Houston's lineup, is 3 for 6 lifetime against Carpenter.

The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner has a 2.20 ERA in his last eight starts versus the Astros, and a 1.50 ERA in his last three outings at Minute Maid Park.

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