ST. LOUIS — Be it the Miami Marlins, Houston Astros or Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals aren't particular. They hunger for wins, no matter the foe.
The Cardinals continue their 15-game stretch against sub-.500 teams at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday when the Astros come calling at Busch Stadium for the first of two interleague contests.
St. Louis (53-34) swept the lowly Marlins (32-55) over the weekend, and Houston (32-57), in its first season in the American League, is even worse.
"Every series, every game (is important)," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after his team's 3-2 triumph Sunday. "We wanted this one bad. There's no question about it. We knew they had a good pitcher on the mound (Jose Fernandez). He gave us a tough time in Miami and he's obviously had a strong season.
"This was one we needed, especially right before the off day."
The win, combined with Pittsburgh's extra-inning loss to the Chicago Cubs, enabled the Cardinals to pull into a first -place tie with the Pirates.
"We're happy to sweep the Marlins, Chicago, Houston, whatever," said Cardinals closer Edward Mujica, who registered his 23rd save in 24 chances. "We're playing pretty good baseball; we're playing hard, and that's good. Defense, offense, pitching, everything is good right now."
The Astros will throw longtime nemesis Bud Norris (6-7, 3.22 ERA) Tuesday against the Cardinals, who will counter with All-Star Adam Wainwright (11-5, 2.36 ERA). Wainwright is 12-1 with a 1.58 ERA in his career against Houston, the lone loss coming Aug. 2, 2009.
Norris is 34-44 with a 4.23 ERA in his career, but against the Cardinals, the 28-year-old right-hander is 8-5 with a 2.74 ERA in 15 starts. Norris has won no more than four games against any other opponent.
Allen Craig has given Norris trouble, going 7-for-17 (.412) with one double, two home runs and seven RBIs. Carlos Beltran (7-for-21, five doubles) and Daniel Descalso (6-for-18, three doubles, one triple, one home run, four RBIs) also have done damage against Norris.
"Pittsburgh's playing extremely well right now, and so are we," All-Star Craig said. "The (Cincinnati) Reds are doing pretty well, too. We know it's going to go down to the wire. It seems like it always does, so we're prepared for that.
"I think we're aware of the standings, but we're still kind of just focused on bringing the energy to the field every day, regardless of what everybody else is doing. We focus on ourselves."
Beltran, another All-Star, was everywhere Sunday, recording a bunt single, stealing home with what proved to be the winning run in the third, and taking a hit away from Jeff Mathis with a diving catch in right to start the ninth.
"Every time you're capable of winning three out of three against a team, it's very positive," Beltran said. "I think we did a lot of good things in this homestand, the first three games.
"Now we've got Houston. They don't have the best record in baseball, but that doesn't mean anything. They're going to come here and play, so we've got to go out and approach these guys like we're playing Cincinnati and Pittsburgh."
The Cardinals hope All-Star catcher Yadier Molina is back in the lineup Tuesday. Molina has missed the last two games with inflammation in his right knee.
"We'll see," is all Matheny said about Molina's possible return, but Molina said before the game that he expected to be back Tuesday.
In the finale of the two-game set against the Astros at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, St. Louis will pitch Shelby Miller (9-6, 2.80 ERA) against Jordan Lyles (4-3, 3.87 ERA).
Miller is 5-2 with a 1.59 ERA in eight starts at home, with eight walks and 60 strikeouts in 51 innings. Lyles has been dominant at times, and struck out a career-high 10 on June 12 against Seattle.