Cardinals aim for second straight weekend sweep of Reds

This is the way things go when you sport the worst record in the majors.

The Cincinnati Reds‘ bullpen entered Saturday’s game in St. Louis with a scoreless streak of 18 1/3 innings. So, naturally, after being given a tie to protect when the offense rallied for three runs in the seventh, Jared Hughes ended that streak when he gave up the tiebreaking homer to Yadier Molina in the bottom of the inning. The St. Louis Cardinals won 4-3.

But that’s unlikely to shake interim manager Jim Riggleman’s faith in the bullpen for Sunday’s series finale in Busch Stadium.

“They’ve been good,” Riggleman said Friday night after the bullpen put up five scoreless innings in a 4-2 loss. “They all gave us a chance.”

Getting a chance is one thing. Cashing in on that chance is another. Cincinnati (3-17) has taken advantage of fewer chances than any team in baseball, saddled with the major leagues’ worst record and worst run differential (minus-49) thanks to dropping four straight and 12 of 13.

Saturday’s loss might have been more galling than most. The Reds overcame a 3-0 deficit against St. Louis after the departure of Carlos Martinez after six scoreless innings. They also got a reasonably good start from Homer Bailey, who entered the game with a 6.00 ERA in 10 career starts at Busch.

However, none of those things mattered in the end as the Cardinals (12-8) won for the seventh time in eight games and jumped over the Pittsburgh Pirates to take over first place in the National League Central. Six of the seven wins have come against Cincinnati, which they have beaten 10 straight times since September.

Results aside, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny knows his lineup is capable of more. Saturday’s lineup shuffle put Matt Carpenter back in his preferred leadoff spot, moved Molina to a rare start at the No. 2 spot and placed Dexter Fowler in the five hole.

Tommy Pham, who normally hits second, missed his second game in three days with a right groin strain and lingering flu symptoms.

St. Louis will march Miles Mikolas (2-0, 4.26) to the mound in search of its second straight weekend sweep of the Reds. Mikolas’ last outing came April 14 in Cincinnati, when he checked the Reds on one run in seven innings for a 6-1 win in his first career game against the Reds.

Luis Castillo (1-2, 6.75) gets the call for Cincinnati. The young, hard-throwing right-hander picked up his first win Monday night in Milwaukee, fanning eight in 6 2/3 innings while allowing five hits and four runs in a 10-4 decision. Castillo’s changeup was particularly effective.

It will be his second career start against the Cardinals. He faced them in August in Cincinnati, and although he gave up only three hits in 6 1/3 innings, he also yielded five walks and four runs in absorbing a 4-1 setback.