Cheap Seats

Series Preview: Cardinals at Tampa Bay

It's amazing the difference a three-game series can make.

The Cardinals, who appeared to be on the ropes at the start of the set against Baltimore, are suddenly riding high again. Three games out three days ago, they're now tied with the Brewers at the top of the NL Central standings.

But who knows if the next three-game set will set the Birds back as much as the last one sent them forward.

The Redbirds head to St. Peterburg starting Friday for a three-game set with the Rays. And while Tampa Bay may be without Carl Crawford, it's still a well-balanced and fundamentally sound ballclub that could be very dangerous.

The Rays are 45-36 overall -- but 19-20 at Tropicana Field where the Cardinals will play their first games on artificial turf this season. Tampa has won seven of its last 10 games compared to the 44-38 Cardinals who are 5-5 over their last 10. The birds are 23-20 on the road.

Pitching is the strongpoint of the Rays. Their leading home run hitter, B.J. Upton, has only 12 compared to the 20 Lance Berkman has hit for St. Louis and the 17 Albert Pujols notched before he was lost to a broken arm. Matt Holliday, who had his appendix removed and then spent another stint on the disabled list, has 10 longballs.

Pitching Match-ups:

Jake Westbrook (6-4, 5.32) will toe the rubber in game one against Tampa righty Wade Davis (7-5, 4.32). Davis, who is 3-3 at home with a 4.46 ERA has won his last three starts. Westbrook, meanwhile, hasn't logged a victory since June 3. And over that span his ERA has ballooned from an already upsetting 5.01 to it's current 5.32 mark.

The second game will be started by Kyle McClellan (6-4, 4.02) and Jeff Niemann (2-4, 5.58.) Niemann hasn't won a game at Tropicana Field so far this year where opponents hit .319 off him and he's sporting a 6.65 ERA. McClellan, who started the year off red hot, has been trending downward since he hit the quarter pole of the season. The Cardinals have lost Mac's last four starts and he hasn't won a game since May 19.

Kyle Lohse (8-4, 2.78) will start the finale against Jeremy Hellickson (7-7, 3.18). Hellickson has been a hard luck starter at home where he is 2-4 despite a 2.81 ERA. He's allowed only 31 hits in 41 1/3 innings at the Trop. Lohse hadn't won a game since May 28 before beating the Orioles in his most recent start -- which was shortened to five innings by rain.