Beginning on Thursday, the St. Louis Cardinals will play a potentially season-defining stretch of 17 games in 18 days against other NL playoff contenders.
For now, they'll happily welcome a few more against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Cardinals look to continue their dominance of the NL Central's cellar dwellers with a sixth straight victory at Miller Park on Tuesday night.
St. Louis (72-52) didn't fare well in its last critical stretch, going 4-11 in a two-week span against Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Dodgers before dropping two more at home against the Cubs.
It's won six of its eight since, though, after Monday's 8-5 comeback victory at Milwaukee, where it'll face the Brewers (54-71) twice more before a stretch in which it plays four against the Braves and 13 more against the Pirates and Reds.
St. Louis follows that gauntlet by playing its final 19 against sub-.500 teams, including six more against a Brewers team it certainly won't mind seeing again. The Cardinals have outscored Milwaukee 65-36 in winning nine of 11 in the season series, and they have a 37-18 edge on the scoreboard in taking all five at Miller Park.
They'll try to keep that success going against former Cardinal Kyle Lohse (8-8, 3.17 ERA), who hasn't enjoyed facing the club with which he spent the previous five seasons. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 5.00 ERA in three starts against St. Louis as the Cardinals are hitting .338 against him.
Yadier Molina and David Freese are 5 for 9 off him in 2013, while Carlos Beltran has a 1.458 career OPS versus Lohse in 59 plate appearances. Molina went 4 for 5 Monday, Beltran homered among his three hits and Freese delivered a pinch-hit double that drove in two in the Cardinals' four-run eighth inning.
"They were relentless right there,'' manager Mike Matheny said of his team. "It started with some hustle with (Kolten) Wong legging (out an infield single), and guys having some big, big at-bats for us.''
Lohse had a rough first few months in Milwaukee, going 1-6 with a 4.37 ERA in his opening 10 starts, but he's looked like an outstanding addition over his past 15 outings. Since June 1, his 2.40 ERA is the fourth-best in the NL.
He has a 1.66 ERA in his six starts since the All-Star break, though he suffered his first loss of the second half Thursday by allowing two runs - one earned - over seven innings while falling to Cincinnati 2-1.
"Lohse, he doesn't give you a whole lot to hit," Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco told the Brewers' official website. "He keeps the ball down, hits the corners, changes speeds. He's tough."
The Cardinals counter with Lance Lynn (13-6, 3.89), who for his second straight start was victimized by one shaky inning. He gave up three runs in the seventh in a 3-0 loss to the Cubs on Aug. 9, then allowed four in the fifth in a 6-5, 12-inning win over the Pirates on Thursday.
Lynn surrendered four runs and eight hits in five innings in his lone start against Milwaukee this year, a 6-4 home win in 10 innings May 18. He was 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA in a pair of starts at Miller Park last season, striking out 18 with just one walk in 13 2-3 innings.
Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez remains day to day with a sprained right shoulder that's kept him out of the starting lineup since Friday.
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