Cardinals-Phillies Preview

(AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals haven’t visited Philadelphia since defeating Roy Halladay and the Phillies in Game 5 of last October’s NL division series.

While there doesn’t figure to be nearly as much intrigue surrounding this weekend’s three-game set, a matchup between Halladay and Kyle Lohse could make for a competitive series opener Friday night.

While defending World Series champion St. Louis (61-51) finds itself in playoff contention again, it’s been a different story for Philadelphia (50-61) in 2012.

The five-time reigning NL East champs sit at the bottom of the division, and after moving Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino before the non-waiver trade deadline have all but given up on their season.

Philadelphia’s struggles have been partially due to several key injuries, with Halladay’s possibly the most costly. The Phillies were two games above .500 on May 27 before Halladay (5-6, 4.02 ERA) was forced from an 8-3 loss at St. Louis after giving up four runs – on a grand slam to Yadier Molina – in two innings due to soreness in his right throwing shoulder.

The injury turned out to be a latissimus dorsi strain that would sideline Halladay for almost two months, with Philadelphia going 15-27 in his absence.

The two-time Cy Young award winner compiled a 5.82 ERA in his first three starts after returning but delivered a vintage performance Saturday against Arizona. Halladay struck out five and walked one over seven innings of three-hit ball in a 3-0 win.

“Each time, I’ve felt better. I’ve still got a little ways to go mechanically and in consistency,” he told the Phillies’ official website. “Unfortunately, it’s a little bit of the spring training type of thing, but I feel strong. I feel good. As long as the movement’s there and I feel like I can beat guys with it at times, that’s the important thing.

“I’m trying not to get too caught up in the whole velocity thing. For me, if I can see the movement and the swings I’m getting off the barrel, that’s what’s important.”

Since joining the Phillies in 2010, Halladay has gone 2-2 with a 2.61 ERA in four home matchups versus the Cardinals including postseason. He was outdueled by Chris Carpenter in a 1-0 loss in Game 5 of the teams’ 2011 NLDS, giving up the game’s only run in eight innings.

Halladay could find himself in another pitchers’ duel Friday versus Lohse (12-2, 2.79). The right-hander is 6-0 over his last nine starts, yielding two runs or fewer in all but one of those outings.

“I have an idea of what I’m trying to do out there and I’m just going out and executing the game plan,” Lohse said after tying a season high with six strikeouts in as many innings Sunday during a 3-0 win over Milwaukee. “It’s fun out there to throw strikes and let the defense do its work.”

Lohse, who spent part of the 2007 season with Philadelphia, is 1-2 despite a 2.81 ERA in four regular-season meetings against the Phillies since the start of 2010.

St. Louis is coming off a four-game split with San Francisco, taking Thursday’s series finale 3-1. Adam Wainwright threw seven strong innings while Carlos Beltran hit his 27th homer – a two-run shot in the first inning – to help the Cardinals bounce back from Wednesday’s 15-0 loss.

“To get that bad taste out of your mouth is huge,” manager Mike Matheny said. “When we strike first, we’ve got a real good chance of making something happen.”

The Cardinals lost three of four to the Phillies when the teams met in May at St. Louis.