Cardinals-Rays Preview

The St. Louis Cardinals are looking very comfortable in AL

ballparks this season.

The Cardinals will try for their seventh consecutive interleague

road victory and season-high fifth straight overall when they

continue their series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday

night.

While St. Louis (45-38) is a solid 8-5 in interleague play this

year, it’s been particularly impressive in road games against the

AL, winning six straight after losing its first interleague away

game.

The Cardinals beat Tampa Bay 5-3 on Friday following a sweep of

the Orioles in Baltimore earlier this week. Jake Westbrook allowed

two hits in seven scoreless innings and Colby Rasmus hit a

three-run homer in the eighth off Rays reliever J.P. Howell.

Rasmus has nine home runs this season, three in the last four

games and four in interleague play.

”Colby’s got so much talent,” manager Tony La Russa said.

”When he gets into a game, a lot of good things happen. If he can

keep that up, good at-bats, what a huge asset he would be.”

Howell was ejected by plate umpire Vic Carapazza after the

left-hander threw his glove to the ground following the homer and

also spiked the new ball tossed to him by the umpire. Manager Joe

Maddon as well as David Price and Elliot Johnson – both of whom

were in the dugout – were also tossed as the Rays (45-37) dropped

to 19-21 at home.

The NL Central-leading Cardinals have averaged 6.3 runs and hit

seven homers in their last four games.

Their starting pitching also has been producing. Cardinals

starters are 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA during the six-game road

interleague win streak, a trend Kyle McClellan (6-4, 4.02 ERA)

looks to continue Saturday.

McClellan has lost his last three decisions, however, and is

winless in his last five starts, the last four of which St. Louis

has lost. He allowed five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 5-0 defeat to

Toronto on Sunday.

The right-hander made a one-inning relief appearance against the

Rays in 2008, allowing one run and two walks.

The Rays will try to bounce back after their third loss in four

games Friday. They have hit .180 during that stretch, going 3 for

23 with runners in scoring position. Casey Kotchman, batting a

team-best .333, is 2 for 12 in his last four games after he was

hitless in three at-bats Friday.

”I thought we were kind of flat at the beginning of the game,”

Maddon said. ”I was kind of annoyed with that. We just had a day

off Thursday and we didn’t have a day off listed for Friday, so I

was a little upset with that.”

Tampa Bay’s Jeff Niemann (2-4, 5.58) will make his third start

since coming off the disabled list with a lower back strain.

The right-hander gave up five runs and seven hits in three

innings against Houston on Sunday, but escaped without a decision

as the Rays went on to win 14-10. In his first start off the DL,

Niemann pitched six scoreless innings to win at Milwaukee on June

20.

“I couldn’t get the ball down in the zone, and the breaking

pitches weren’t as sharp as the last time out,” he told the Rays’

official website. “It’s a bad combo.”

The Cardinals are 6-1 all-time against the Rays.