Braves-Cardinals Preview

The Associated Press

The Atlanta Braves hosted the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this month mired in a dismal losing streak and a funk at the plate.

Though Atlanta still isn't lighting up the scoreboard, its starting pitching has been mostly solid.

No member of the rotation has been as consistently good as Ervin Santana, who takes the mound Friday night for the Braves as they begin a three-game set in St. Louis.

Atlanta's losing streak reached seven when it fell to the Cardinals in the series opener May 5, and it was held to six runs while dropping two of three. The Braves (22-17) have exceeded four runs just three times in their last 22 contests, though their starters have allowed three earned runs or fewer in 11 of the past 13.

Atlanta had won four of five before falling 10-4 to San Francisco on Wednesday. Chris Johnson went 2 for 3 and drove in two runs, and he's hitting .433 over his last eight games as one of the few bright spots for a Braves offense batting .207 in its last 16.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez elected to bat the pitcher in the eighth spot for eight straight games beginning with the series opener against the Cardinals, but he decided against doing so Wednesday.

"I thought our offense did a nice job getting us back in it," Gonzalez said. "The game just got a little out of hand there in the middle innings."

The Braves may not need many runs in this contest with Santana on the mound. Santana (4-0, 1.99 ERA), who missed his previous turn in the rotation due to a right thumb bruise, struck out seven over seven innings of Saturday's 2-0 win over the Chicago Cubs.

It marked the fourth time that Santana allowed fewer than two runs, and he's pitched at least six innings in all six of his outings. He battled through a rain delay of one hour and seven minutes between the second and third innings Saturday.

"Santana was terrific - better than terrific, really, when you throw in an hour-plus rain delay," Gonzalez said. "He did a terrific job."

The right-hander has made two starts against the Cardinals, most recently giving up four runs and homers to Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday over 7 1-3 innings of a 4-1 loss May 28 while pitching for Kansas City.

St. Louis (21-20) has won five of the last seven meetings with the Braves, and it will counter with Lance Lynn as he looks to get back on track.

Lynn (4-2, 3.83) won his first four starts but is 0-2 in his last four and had his worst performance in that span Saturday, allowing four runs - all in the fourth - over six innings of a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh.

"There are going to be some games where I throw the ball right down the middle three straight times and I get three straight outs," Lynn said. "(Saturday) it just didn't happen when I made my pitch."

The right-hander is 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA in three career starts against the Braves.

He'll look to help the Cardinals win three straight for the first time in a month after they beat the Cubs 5-3 on Thursday.

Carpenter snapped an 0-for-16 slump with an RBI double. Yadier Molina also drove in a run and is 7 for 16 in his last four games.

St. Louis has won 10 of the last 14 home meetings with the Braves.

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