Pirates-Cardinals Preview

The Associated Press

The St. Louis Cardinals have had little trouble scoring runs in the first two games of their series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That's usually been the case for them this season with Jake Westbrook on the mound.

The Cardinals look to stay hot at the plate and help Westbrook continue his strong start when they try to complete a three-game sweep of the Pirates on Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

One night after St. Louis (16-8) pounded out 13 hits in a 10-7 win over Pittsburgh, Carlos Beltran hit a pair of three-run homers and had a career-high seven RBIs as the Cardinals scored all their runs in the first three innings off A.J. Burnett in a 12-3 rout Wednesday.

The NL Central's only team with a winning record, St. Louis has recorded 75 hits while outscoring its opponents 49-18 to win five of the last six.

Beltran was mired in a 3-for-32 slump before going 4 for 5 on Wednesday.

"Lately, God knows, I've been searching at the plate, trying to find my swing, trying to feel comfortable, trying to be able to go out there and have quality at-bats,'' Beltran said. "This game can be like this. You have to stay positive.''

Teammate Jon Jay had three hits Wednesday to raise his average to .488 (21 for 43) during an 11-game hitting streak.

The Cardinals have scored an NL-high 135 runs and at least seven in three of the four starts made by Westbrook (3-1, 1.30 ERA), who has not allowed more than two runs in an outing. He gave up one in seven innings of a 13-1 rout of Milwaukee on Friday.

"He has been really, really good," manager Mike Matheny told the Cardinals' official website. "Hopefully he just figures out how to stay there. It's been fun to watch."

The only time Westbrook did not receive any support came when he allowed two runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 2-0 loss at Pittsburgh on April 21. Though the 34-year-old right-hander is 0-4 with a 6.04 ERA in five starts against the Pirates, he continues to feel good while trying to open 4-1 for the first time in his career.

"I'm just riding a lot of confidence right now," Westbrook said. "Hopefully I can keep being consistent and keep putting together quality starts."

While the Cardinals have had little trouble supporting Westbrook for the most part, the Pirates hope to provide Erik Bedard (1-4, 2.48) with enough runs for the second straight outing.

Pittsburgh totaled three runs in Bedard's first four starts before it broke out in a 4-2 win at Atlanta on Saturday. The left-hander allowed a run and struck out nine in five innings.

"It feels good,'' Bedard said. "When you can get up early, it helped out. Hopefully it keeps coming."

Bedard gave up three runs, seven hits, four walks and struck out seven in seven innings of a 5-1 home loss April 22 - his first career appearance against the Cardinals.

Pedro Alvarez had two hits and scored all three runs Wednesday for the Pirates (10-14), who look to bounce back from their most lopsided defeat since falling 15-1 at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 18.

Alvarez has gone 9 for 19 in the last five games to raise his average from .149 to .242.

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