ST. LOUIS — The Philadelphia Phillies were hopeful of being contenders in the NL East when they made their first and only visit of the season to Busch Stadium.
Technically, they are, but a 49-50 record and a 6 1/2-game deficit in the division is not what they had in mind as they open a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday.
The Cardinals (59-37) are in a far better position than the Phillies, owning a two-game lead over Pittsburgh and a five-game lead over Cincinnati in the NL Central.
St. Louis has won or split its last four series. It took two of three against San Diego over the weekend, with Allen Craig's leaping catch in left field finishing off a 3-2 triumph Sunday in which Adam Wainwright bagged his 13th victory of the season.
Philadelphia and the Cardinals split four games April 18-21 at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies are just 41-39 since that series, while the Cardinals are 49-29.
Philadelphia (Ryan Howard) and the Cardinals (Matt Holliday) are playing without two of their best players. Howard is on the disabled list until August or September with a torn meniscus in his left knee, while Holliday is sidelined by a strained right hamstring.
Howard, however, hasn't been the same since he ruptured his left Achilles' tendon on a groundout against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2011 Division Series. The St. Louisan has three years and a $23 million club option remaining on his contract.
The Cardinals will pitch Shelby Miller (9-6, 2.92 ERA) in the series opener. Miller, making his first start in 13 days, will be opposed by Jonathan Pettibone (5-3, 3.89 ERA). Miller, who never has faced the Phillies, is 1-2 with a 6.87 ERA in his last four starts.
Pettibone, a rookie right-hander, is 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA in his last five starts and has limited batters to a .223 average.
Jake Westbrook (6-4, 2.88 ERA) will pitch against the Phillies' John Lannan (2-3, 3.76 ERA) at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday before struggling Lance Lynn (11-1, 4.13 ERA) works against Kyle Kendrick (9-6, 3.94 ERA) in the series finale at 6:15 p.m. Thursday.
Westbrook is 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA since he came off the disabled list in mid-June. Lynn, like last season, began to labor as the All-Star break approached. He is 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA in his last five assignments, allowing 38 hits in 30 innings and a .306 average.
The Cardinals could be in the market for another starter or a veteran reliever as the July 31 trade deadline nears.
It was hoped that Chris Carpenter's recovery, along with a strong minor-league rehab, would enable him to join the rotation. But the 38-year-old has been hit hard in two starts --one at Class AA Springfield, one at Class AAA Memphis.
Carpenter has allowed seven runs (six earned) on 15 hits in six innings, with four walks, seven strikeouts and a home run allowed. Carpenter's rehab stint can last no longer than Aug. 13, giving him time to make four more starts.
The Chicago White Sox, who have fallen out of the race in the AL Central, are shopping Jake Peavy, a pitcher that could interest Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak, depending on the prospects the White Sox would inquire about.
Peavy, 32, is 7-4 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 starts this season. He is signed through 2014, with a per annum salary of $14.5 million.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.