Mariners-Cardinals Preview

The Associated Press

Highlighting how competitive the NL Central race is, the St. Louis Cardinals' first loss in six games helped end their sole possession of the division lead.

Adam Wainwright will try to help his club regain that advantage while the Cardinals also hope to get top hitter Yadier Molina and best setup man Trevor Rosenthal back for their series opener against the Seattle Mariners.

St. Louis (85-61) was alone atop the Central for much of the past week thanks to a 5-0 start on its nine-game homestand. The Cardinals, though, couldn't keep that run going with a 5-3 loss to Milwaukee on Thursday and fell back into a tie with Pittsburgh, which topped the last-place Chicago Cubs for its fourth straight win earlier in the evening.

"Those guys are playing good baseball. We're playing good baseball," pitcher Joe Kelly told the team's website. "It's going to be a fun run toward the end."

Wainwright (16-9, 3.03 ERA) will try to help St. Louis, winner in 13 of 17 at home, rebound by continuing to bounce back from two poor showings against Cincinnati. The right-hander gave up a combined 15 runs in eight innings to the Reds, who are just 2 1/2 games back in the NL Central, before earning a 5-0 win against Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Wainwright yielded just two hits and two walks over seven innings while striking out eight.

"This time he was aggressive," said Molina, who has missed the past two games. "This is a long season and everyone is going to have slumps. He's a tough guy. He's going to battle."

Molina has been away with his mother, Gladys, who is recovering from a surgery. Rosenthal was awaiting the birth of his first child.

"That's more important," manager Mike Matheny said. "Family comes first in both of the situations."

Wainwright will try to move into a tie for the NL wins lead while further stifling a Seattle team that's batted .157 and been outscored 29-8 during a four-game losing streak. The Mariners (65-81) were swept in three games by Houston, owner of the worst record in the majors.

"When things don't go well at home, you go, 'We are going on the road, that should be better,'" outfielder Raul Ibanez said. "You keep the positive outlook, and when things go bad on the road, you go, 'Hey, we're going home, so things should be better.'"

The Cardinals are 6-3 all-time against the Mariners and will face them for the first time since June 14-16, 2010. Wainwright pitched St. Louis to a 9-3 win in the opener of that series, his only matchup with Seattle.

In this meeting, he'll start opposite Hisashi Iwakuma (12-6, 2.97), who is winless in his last three outings despite pitching well. The right-hander has posted a 2.89 ERA during that stretch and gave up three runs over 5 2-3 innings in Seattle's 6-4 win against Tampa Bay last Friday.

Iwakuma is 3-0 with a 1.87 ERA in his last five road games but 0-1 with a 6.14 ERA in two career interleague starts. Both of those games, however, were played at home.

Iwakuma has thrown 196 2-3 innings this season, five shy of matching his career high set in 2008 while pitching in his native Japan.

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