Giants-Cardinals Preview

The St. Louis Cardinals have alternated wins and losses in their
last seven games, but they’re hoping the beginning of a new month
brings more consistency.

What they’ll definitely be getting to open June is a major
challenge at the plate.

Tim Lincecum gave up six earned runs in five starts last month
and has won five of his six career starts against St. Louis,
patterns of success the Giants ace looks to continue Wednesday
night at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals (33-23) won eight of nine from May 16-24 to go
from 1 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central to 3 1/2
games in front, .

Three losses in five games nearly became four in six Tuesday
against San Francisco (29-25), but St. Louis didn’t let a late 3-1
deficit get in its way. Doubles from Jon Jay, Albert Pujols and
Allen Craig tied the score at 3, then Skip Schumaker’s infield
single plated Craig and lifted the Cardinals to a 4-3 win.

“It’s a good win, a comeback win against a very good bullpen,”
said Schumaker, who had been 2 for 19 since returning from the
disabled list before his big hit. “It’s very meaningful.”

Piecing together consecutive victories won’t be easy against
Lincecum (5-4, 2.22 ERA), particularly if Matt Holliday is again
not in the starting lineup. Holliday returned to the lineup Monday
after not starting since May 22 because of a strained left
quadriceps, but he was limited to pinch-hitting duties Tuesday.

Lincecum, meanwhile, went 3-1 with a 1.47 ERA in May, capping it
with a pair of victories. He pitched a three-hitter in a 3-0 win
over Oakland on May 21, then gave up three runs over seven innings
Friday in Milwaukee, going from a likely loss to a 5-4 win thanks
to rookie Brandon Crawford’s seventh-inning grand slam.

Despite completing a strong month, Lincecum’s velocity was down
against the Brewers. The staff ace, though, says he’s fine
physically.

“Nothing’s hurt or anything,” Lincecum told the Giants’ official
website. “I felt like I was laboring through most of the game, for
the most part. Sliders were flat. Fastball was down (in velocity).
Changeup was not really diving or anything.”

The two-time Cy Young Award winner was 5-0 with a 1.54 ERA
against the Cardinals before giving up four runs over 5 1-3 innings
in a 5-1 loss Aug. 21 at Busch.

Pujols, who made his second start of the season at third base
Tuesday, is 5 for 14 lifetime versus Lincecum.

Jake Westbrook (5-3, 5.19) gets the ball for St. Louis seeking
his fourth consecutive victory. After giving up one run over 15
innings in wins over Philadelphia and Kansas City, the right-hander
wasn’t nearly as sharp Friday in Colorado, but allowing three runs
over five innings proved to be good enough in a 10-3 victory.

Westbrook is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA in his last three home starts
after opening 0-2 with an 18.41 ERA.

He wasn’t sharp at all in the Cardinals’ 5-4, 12-inning loss at
San Francisco on April 8. But despite giving up eight hits –
including homers to Pat Burrell and Miguel Tejada – and walking
four over 5 2-3 innings, he only surrendered three runs.

Giants rookie Brandon Belt will likely miss a few days after
being hit in the wrist with a pitch in the seventh inning Tuesday.
That could put the struggling Aubrey Huff back at first base
Wednesday, but manager Bruce Bochy said he may give him a second
straight day off.