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Series preview: Cardinals vs. Astros

The Cardinals face a Astros squad the next three games that has little to play for... other than trying to prevent the division winner from celebrating on their home field.

Houston is 70-79 and in fourth place, 16.5 games behind the National League Central leading Cardinals at 87-63. The Astros have won only two of their last 10 games and manager Cecil Cooper seems a sure thing to be fired at the end of the season. (UPDATE: THEY FIRED HIM TODAY). Still, longtime Astros like Lance Berkman surely remember the days not too long ago when Houston and St. Louis were battling for the division crown ever year. And they don't want the Birds spraying down the visitors locker room with the bubbly.

Any combination of Cardinals wins and Cubs losses to Milwaukee that adds up to four would cause the corks to pop.

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Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse will try to make up for a lost season by finding a place for himself in St. Louis' playoff picture. Coaches hope his Monday start in Houston will help them determine where he could best help the team. AP photo.

Wandy Rodriguez (13-10, 2.77) will toe the Rubber for the Astros in the first game, facing the Cardinals oft injured starter Kyle Lohse (5-8, 4.83).

Lohse, who seemed to be tabbed for the St. Louis bullpen in the post season, will make only his second start in more than a month.

In game two, the Cardinals will send Joel Pineiro (14-11, 3.31) to the hill against righthander Yorman Bazardo (0-1, 8.50.) Bazardo has been a nomadic minor leaguer who is playing in his fifth organization. He has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with the Tigers and Marlins, compiling a 6.99 ERA with a .299 batting average.

John Smoltz is scheduled to start game three for the Cardinals. He's 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA since joining the Cardinals. He'll face Bud Norris (5-3, 5.07) in the finale. He two-hit the Cardinals for seven innings in his first career meeting against St. Louis in August. He allowed no runs, despite walking four, to notch his first career victory.