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July 28: Astros 5, Cardinals 3

At the start of the second half of the schedule the Cardinals were healthier than they had been all season and still tied for first place.

They seemed poised to make a run. And the trade Wednesday of Colby Rasmus for starting pitching help and a huge bullpen makeover seemed to eliminate the club's most dangerous weakness.

But the Redbirds maddeningly just can't seem to get into gear. They frustratingly couldn't manage to win their series with the worst team in baseball, losing to the Astros 5-3 as the Brewers beat up the Cubs to move to 1 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis in the NL Central divison standings.

There's no excuse for not winning three of the four games with Houston. And the Cardinals could have won all four, especially since they took the first two matches with relative ease.

It wasn't the bullpen that sealed the Birds' fate Thursday night. It was more shoddy defense coupled with an almost complete lack of offense.

Third baseman David Freese and shortstop Ryan Theriot didn't make plays they should have to allow Houston hitters extra chances at the plate. Catchers Gerald Laird and Tony Cruz -- who were both hurt in the game, adding injury to insult -- each allowed passed balls. Laird's miscues allowed the Astros to overcome an early 3-1 Cardinals lead while Cruz's helped Houston to take a lead of its own.

The Cardinals scored their first two runs thanks to crummy Houston defense. With Laird on first and one out, Ryan Theriot hit an easy double play ball that the Astros second sacker plain and simply dropped. New Redbird Corey Patterson singled to right to drive home Laird... And Theriot scored when Houston right fielder Hunter Pence misplayed the ball.

In the third inning Jon Jay doubled to centerfield on a ball that probably should have been caught. Then Pujols drove him home with a flair to right.

Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia allowed four earned runs -- five overall -- on eight hits over six innings to fall to 10-5 on the season.

Cardinals Star of the Game: New St. Louis reliever Marc Rzepczynski threw two scoreless innings. If the Birds could have scored a little bit more that might have come in handy.

Cardinals Play of the Game: Pujols' third inning double.

Lowlight: Cardinals catcher Gerald Laird, Tony Cruz and infielder Nick Punto all left the game Thursday with injuries.

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