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AP - Sports

Prior to facing the NL's two best teams to end the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals are taking advantage against a pair of the league's worst.

St. Louis seeks an eighth victory in nine games as its series continues with the host Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

After beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-2 in 12 innings Sept. 16, the Cardinals (83-71) swept Houston last week and took two of three from the Chicago Cubs over the weekend.

St. Louis' 6-1 victory in this three-game series opener Monday was its ninth straight over the Astros and increased its lead for the NL's second wild-card spot to 3 1/2 games over Milwaukee - which fell 12-2 to Washington earlier in the day - and idle Los Angeles.

Yadier Molina, who sat out Sunday's win with lower back spasms, homered and was one of four Cardinals with two hits.

''He heals quick and he lies really good too when it comes to what it really feels like,'' manager Mike Matheny said. ''He's just got a pain tolerance that's pretty impressive.''

St. Louis ends the regular season with a six-game homestand against playoff-bound Washington and Central division champion Cincinnati, but first it will look to continue its dominance of the Astros while sending Jaime Garcia to the mound.

Garcia (5-7, 4.25 ERA) beat the Astros at home Thursday, giving up three runs in six innings of a 5-4 win.

"You have to find a way to get it done and give the team a chance to win," Garcia said.

The left-hander accomplished that in his last road start by giving up two runs - one earned - in six innings Sept. 15, but St. Louis suffered a 4-3 walkoff loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Garcia, though, is 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA in four road outings since coming off the disabled list, and he's 0-3 with an 8.87 ERA in five lifetime starts at Houston, which hopes to provide some offense for Lucas Harrell.

Harrell (10-10, 3.89) has been one of the team's most consistent starters throughout the course of the season, but he hasn't won in over a month largely due to a lack of run support.

The right-hander has a 3.16 ERA over his last five outings, but he's received six runs of support in 36 1-3 innings over his last six. The Astros mustered only five hits while Harrell allowed three runs and struck out seven in 5 2-3 innings of a 5-0 loss to St. Louis on Wednesday.

''I thought he threw the ball well,'' interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. ''That's a power offense where if you make a mistake, they are going to hurt you.''

Harrell is 2-2 with a 6.14 ERA versus the Cardinals this season, with David Freese and Molina each going 5 for 10 with a homer off of him. Freese, though, rolled his ankle in pregame warmups Monday and was scratched from the lineup. His status for this game is uncertain.

The Astros (50-104) have dropped five of their last seven and are two losses shy of matching their franchise-record 106 from last year. They've scored three or fewer runs eight times while losing 10 of 13 between the teams this season.

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