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Series Preview: Cardinals @ Atlanta

The Cardinals recent hot streak -- they've won five straight series and 12 of their last 17 games -- will be seriously challenged this weekend as they head to Atlanta.

St. Louis has had a hot and cold offense. It's strong starting pitching that has been the club's most consistent asset. But it's going to be tough for the Redbirds to outclass Atlanta on the hill. The Braves have one of the best starting rotations in baseball so far this season.

Pitching match-ups:

Chris Carpenter, who would be glad to get an ugly win like the one that Kyle McClellan registered Thursday night, hasn't been so lucky. He's 0-2 with a 3.90 ERA. And the only reason his ERA is that high is because he had one lousy game amongst his five starts this season. In his other four appearances, Carp has allowed two earned runs or less. But the guy pitching for the other team is no slouch, either. Tim Hudson is 3-2 with a 3.57 ERA.

A 168-89 pitcher over the course of his career, Hudson hasn't historically been dominant against the Cardinals, a team he once said it was his goal to pitch for. Hudson is 3-3 with a 5.50 ERA against St. Louis. Carpenter, who turned 36 on Wednesday, is 133-85 with a 3.80 ERA. But he's not been lights out against Atlanta with a 3-3 career mark with a 6.36 ERA.

Jake Westbrook (2-2, 7.40) will take on Brandon Beachy (1-1, 3.68) in the middle game Saturday. Westbrook started off terribly. But he seemed to have found something in his most recent appearance against the Reds. Westbrook threw six scoreless innings with only three hits allowed to beat Cincinnati on Easter Sunday.

Beachy, who made his debut with three appearances in 2010, has made five starts this season and had pitched six innings in four of them. He's allowed 23 hits in 29 1/3 innings and had 31 strikeouts against nine walks. That strikeout ratio will have to be a concern to the Cardinals who've shown the ability to pile up the whiffs this season at the plate.

In the finale, Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia (3-0, 2.08) has arguably been the Cardinals best starter so far this season. He's expected to take on veteran Derek Lowe (2-3, 3.21). But that may be in doubt since Lowe was arrested Thursday night and charged with drunken driving, according to the George State Patrol. Garcia has made one career start against Atlanta -- but it was a beauty. He pitched seven shutout innings with four hits allowed last season to gain a victory. Lowe is 159-138 for his career with a 3.84 ERA. But he has been historically terrible against the Cardinals with a 1-7 record and a 6.85 ERA.

Atlanta's higest hitters are Brian McCann and veteran Chipper Jones. McCann has a .310 batting average with two homers and 14 runs batted in. Jones is hitting .289 with three homers and 21 RBIs. Outfielder Jason Hayward is hitting .256 with six homers and 13 batted in while Dan Uggla is hitting for power with six homers. But he's got a disappointing .189 average.

If the season ended at the end of April, Cardinals sluggers Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman would be serious candidates for National League MVP. Holliday is hitting .433 with three homers and 16 RBI despite missing nine games because of an uncooperative appendix. Berkman is batting an equally ridiculous .410 with eight homers and 22 batted in. Albert Pujols continues to struggle in the batting average department with a .258 mark. He's got six homers and 16 RBIs.

Atlanta is 13-13 for the season and currently sits in third place in the National League East. The Cardinals are 14-11 in first place in the Central Division.

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