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AP - Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals cooled off at the plate while coming up short in their bid to take over the top spot in the NL Central.

Jhonny Peralta might be able to help them get back on track in a matchup he's thrived in this season.

The Cardinals will try to avoid dropping two in a row for the first time in two weeks Monday night as they open a three-game road set against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The defending Central champion, St. Louis (70-59) had a chance to move into sole possession of first place with a win Sunday and a Milwaukee loss to the Pirates (67-63).

The Cardinals instead failed to put up four runs or more for the first time in 11 games, falling to 8-3 over that span with a 7-1 loss at NL East-worst Philadelphia. They also dropped 1 1/2 games off the division pace with the Brewers' 4-3 victory.

Manager Mike Matheny said the loss wasn't the result of the quick turnaround after Saturday's 12-inning 6-5 win.

"We're a team that doesn't give excuses," he said. "There was life. I didn't think we were dragging."

Jhonny Peralta and Oscar Tavares combined for four of the team's six hits Sunday. Peralta has been one of the hottest Cardinals with a .350 average in his last 15 games.

Now the shortstop will try to continue his success against the Pirates after batting .371 with three home runs in his last 10 meetings. He's also hitting .333 with two homers in 42 career at-bats versus Pittsburgh starter Francisco Liriano.

Liriano (3-10, 4.18 ERA) had posted a 2.43 ERA over his previous 10 starts before allowing a season-high nine runs - seven earned - and a season-worst 10 hits over four-plus innings in Tuesday's 11-3 home loss to Atlanta.

"I've got to put it behind me, got to move forward," the left-hander said.

After winning his first four career starts versus St. Louis, Liriano has gone 0-1 with a 4.85 ERA in three meetings in 2014. He's allowed seven runs and 12 hits over 11 innings in his two matchups at PNC Park.

The Cardinals send recent acquisition John Lackey (1-1, 5.40) to the mound as they go after their fifth win in six games against Pittsburgh and eighth in 14 meetings overall in the season series.

Lackey has allowed two earned runs in three of his four starts with St. Louis after striking out seven over six innings against Cincinnati on Tuesday. He did not factor in the decision as the Cardinals rallied for a 5-4 home win.

The right-hander spent his first 11-plus years in the AL and hasn't faced the Pirates since 2004.

Pittsburgh's Travis Snider is 4 for 8 with two doubles and three RBIs off him dating to his time with Toronto, and he's gone 11 for 20 with five doubles in his last five home games.

Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte each homered Sunday when the Pirates had their three-game winning streak snapped. McCutchen has scuffled with a .220 average and one homer in his last 11 games versus St. Louis.

Matt Adams was back in the lineup for the Cardinals after Matheny said he tweaked his back fielding a throw Saturday. The first baseman is batting .382 in his last nine games against the Pirates.

Pittsburgh on Monday sent rookie outfielder Gregory Polanco, in the midst of a 1-for-30 slump, to Triple-A Indianapolis and recalled Jose Tabata.

The Pirates also activated shortstop Clint Barmes off the 15-day disabled list and designated infielder Jayson Nix for assignment.

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