The St. Louis Cardinals have compiled a modest run, breaking away from the National League Central pack along with the Milwaukee Brewers.
But now is no time to take their foot off the pedal.
The Redbirds will take on the last place Philadelphia Phillies in a three-game set this weekend. With Phils ace Cole Hamels not scheduled to appear in the series, St. Louis has a decided pitching advantage -- at least on paper -- that it can't afford to waste.
Philadelhia will send a rookie and a pair of struggling vets to the mound against St. Louis.
In the opener Friday, The Cardinals will send ace Adam Wainwright (15-7, 2.40) to the mound against Kyle Kendrick (5-11, 4.90. Wainwright leads the National League in wins. Kendrick's most notable statistic is the 20 homers he's surrendered so far this season. He's struck out 91 and walked 44 in 154 1/3 innings. Wainwright has struck out 143 and issued 41 bases on balls.
On Saturday, Shelby Miller (8.9, 4.25) will hurl for St. Louis against David Buchanan (6-7, 4.25.)
Buchanan has only won two games in eight starts since June. Although four of his six wins have come at home, his ERA is worse there, 4.38 ERA for the season compared to 4.12 on the road. But he has given up only one of the five home runs he's allowed at home despite the fact that his innings total is nearly the same home and away. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Buchanan is a dreaded rookie against whom they have little experience. He has pitched against the Birds once previously and allowed four hits and one run over 7 2/3 to earn a win.
Miller has lacked a put away fastball most of this season, which is alarming because his fastball is his meal ticket. He's struck out 95 in 139 2/3 innings while walking a disturbing total of 66 hitters, nearly one every other inning. But lately he's getting better results witht he heater. In his last four games he's struck out at least five in three of them. Prior to that, he hadn't struck out as many as five hitters in his previous eight starts dating back to June 14.
The Cardinals righty has given up less hits than innings pitched in seven of his last eight starts. Unfortunately, he's managed to earn only one victory and while acquiring two losses. The team is 2-6 in Miller's last eight starts.
In the finale, the Redbirds send former Cleveland ace Justin Masterson, acquired in a costly trade that sent prospect James Ramsey to the Tribe, to the hill. He'll face Jerome Williams (3-5, 5.91).
Masterson is 6-7 with a 5.64 ERA overall and 2-1 with a 6.30 ERA for St. Louis. Three of his four Cardinals starts have been terrible. But the other one was brilliant, a three-hit shutout for seven innings against the Miami Marlins. So it's anyone's guess which version of the pitcher will show up in an important late season game in Philadelphia. But he's 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA against Philadelphia.
The Cardinals need to start seeing some consistency out of Masterson because time for tinkering is running out. He could lose his spot in the rotation to Carlos Martinez or rapidly recovering starter Michael Wacha in the coming weeks. And that would make the trade to acquire him one of the biggest busts of the John Mozeliak era.
Williams is a journeyman pitcher who's toiled for the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, Anaheim Angels and Texas Rangers before landing with the Phillies. He's 3-4 with a 5.85 ERA against the Cardinals over the course of his career.