With a one-game lead over the Dodgers for that spot, the Cardinals look to avoid a fourth straight loss overall and fifth consecutive defeat at Chavez Ravine on Thursday night.
Hoping for the chance to defend its World Series title, St. Louis (75-68) has not looked like a postseason contender while losing 11 of 15. The Cardinals head to Los Angeles after a 3-2 loss Wednesday concluded a three-game sweep by San Diego.
"Overall, it doesn't matter (how hard the team plays) because it all comes down to whether you win,'' manager Mike Matheny said. "They are still aware of the sense of urgency.''
That's because St. Louis owns a slim wild-card lead over the Dodgers (74-69). The two also have Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Philadelphia within three games or less of that second and final spot.
"St. Louis and ourselves, we have let a lot of people back in the race - but it's still in our hands," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "No matter how bad it has looked and no matter where it has been, it's still right there for us.''
The Cardinals have been outscored 20-11 during a four-game skid at Dodger Stadium, but Los Angeles has dropped three in a row and six of seven overall. They open the four-game set against Josh Beckett (1-2, 3.86 ERA), who is 2-2 with a 5.11 ERA in six starts against them but has not faced St. Louis since 2005.
Though Beckett allowed four runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-2 loss at San Francisco on Friday, he hopes for a second straight strong outing at Dodger Stadium. The right-hander allowed a home run and struck out nine in 6 2-3 innings of a 2-1 victory over Arizona on Sept. 1 in his first appearance at Chavez Ravine since Los Angeles acquired him from Boston.
"They didn't bring me here to pitch OK," Beckett told the Dodgers' official website after his last outing. "They brought me here to pitch good."
The Cardinals counter with Lance Lynn (14-7, 4.04), who returns to the rotation in place of the injured Jake Westbrook after being relegated to the bullpen for the past two weeks. Lynn, who won his first six starts and earned an All-Star nod this season, went 0-1 with a 6.56 ERA in his last five starts before his demotion. His most recent start came Aug. 24 at Cincinnati, where he allowed four runs in two innings of an 8-5 win.
Despite Lynn's recent struggles, Matheny feels confident putting the right-hander in this important situation.
"We know that's not going to affect him, and we believe in his stuff," he told the Cardinals' official website.
In his only previous appearance versus Los Angeles, Lynn gave up four runs in six innings while not factoring in the decision of a 6-5 loss at Dodger Stadium on May 18.
St. Louis slugger Carlos Beltran is batting .131 (8 for 61) with one extra-base hit in his last 18 games. He's 3 for 15 (.200) versus Beckett.
Adrian Gonzalez drove in both runs during Los Angeles' 3-2 loss at Arizona on Wednesday. The Dodgers, 6-11 since acquiring Gonzalez and Beckett, have hit .212 and scored 13 runs in their last seven contests.
Los Angeles star Matt Kemp is 4 for 36 (.111) with 11 strikeouts in his last nine games while teammate Hanley Ramirez is 2 for 19 (.105) and fanned seven times in his last five. Kemp and Ramirez are a combined 8 for 46 (.174) versus St. Louis in 2012.