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The St. Louis Cardinals may have been hoping a series with the Chicago Cubs would help provide some momentum before hosting the NL Central leader.

Instead, they're hoping Joe Kelly can help them avoid being swept.

With a series against first-place Pittsburgh looming, Kelly will try to help the Cardinals salvage a win versus the Cubs by turning in another strong performance Sunday.

St. Louis (66-50) was atop the division July 25, holding a 2 1/2-game lead on the Pirates. But 13 losses in 17 games, including four in a row, has dropped the Cardinals four games back.

With Pittsburgh scheduled to visit Busch Stadium for a three-game set starting Tuesday, the Cardinals are hoping to begin reversing their sluggish stretch, which includes batting .204 and averaging 1.9 runs in those defeats.

St. Louis has already lost its first home series with the Cubs (52-64) since being swept in a three-game set Sept. 13-15, 2010. The struggles continued Saturday, when the Cardinals squandered a two-run, eighth-inning lead in a 6-5 loss.

"Sometimes we just don't get it done," manager Mike Matheny said. "We had opportunities. We've just got to do things a little different."

Turning to Kelly (3-3, 2.98 ERA) may fall into that category since he's spent most of his first two seasons in the majors as a reliever. However, he's 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA in five starts since being moved into the rotation July 6.

The right-hander has compiled a 0.78 ERA over his past four outings, and was impressive again in Tuesday's 5-1 win over the Dodgers. He yielded one run in 5 1-3 innings, outpitching Clayton Kershaw while helping the Cardinals snap Los Angeles' franchise-record 15-game road winning streak.

"We needed him to come up big for us and that's exactly what he did," Matheny said. "He used both sides of the plate and his change-up was sharp. He couldn't have done much more than what he did."

Kelly was sharp in Chicago on July 12, allowing one run and three hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 3-2 win.

Matt Holliday continues to swing a hot bat for the Cardinals. He had two homers and four RBIs on Saturday and is hitting .423 with 12 runs in 14 games.

He's a staggering 20 for 36 (.556) with six homers, 11 RBIs and 13 runs over his last 10 home meetings with Chicago.

The Cubs, winners of three of four, are slated to turn to Edwin Jackson (7-12, 4.96), who is trying to rebound from one of his worst performances of the season.

The right-hander was tagged for seven runs and 10 hits in five innings of a 9-8 loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday. He had been 3-1 with a 1.83 ERA over his previous five outings.

"It was just a matter of not getting in a good rhythm and leaving too many pitches up," Jackson said. "My command wasn't very good. ... If you're up in the zone, any games will be tough."

One of Jackson's impressive performances last month came against the Cardinals, as he yielded three hits in seven innings of a 3-0 home win July 11. However, he's 0-3 with an 8.00 ERA in four starts in St. Louis.

Jackson has held Holliday to two hits in 11 at-bats over the past two years.

Cubs rookie Junior Lake had two hits and two runs Saturday, giving him a .333 average in 23 games since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa.

Tagged: Cubs, Cardinals, Edwin Jackson, Matt Holliday

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