Cardinals-Giants Preview

Carlos Beltran doesn’t like to miss games, and he may not have

to for the time being.

The St. Louis Cardinals, though, don’t seem to be missing

him.

Beltran may be back in the lineup for the first time in four

games as the Cardinals try to sweep a two-game set from the San

Francisco Giants on Thursday.

A sore and stiff right knee has kept Beltran on the bench for

three games, leaving St. Louis (22-15) without its leader in home

runs (13) and RBIs (32). He was rested again Wednesday, when the

Cardinals won 4-1 at San Francisco (18-19).

Beltran, batting .295, had been plagued by injuries over his

past three seasons with the New York Mets and the Giants.

“I don’t like to miss games,” Beltran told the Cardinals’

official website. “But I want to make sure that when I do come back

I’m ready to go.

“There’s no doubt I feel a lot better than I did. It doesn’t

bother me when I hit. It’s when I play the outfield or run the

bases. When I play again, I want to play at a high level. I have to

be ready to play defense.”

That could mean Beltran taking the field at AT&T Park for

the first time since leaving the Giants for the Cardinals via free

agency during the offseason. He hit .323 with seven homers and 18

RBIs in 44 games with San Francisco in 2011, when the club fell

short of reaching the playoffs.

If Beltran isn’t ready, St. Louis may need another strong

performance from David Freese, who had a solo homer among his three

hits Wednesday to snap his 0-for-16 slump over the previous five

games.

“I’m not looking at it like I’m finally getting breaks, because

I’ve been terrible the last week,” Freese said.

The third baseman is 9 for 15 with two homers and four RBIs in

his last five games against the Giants – all at San Francisco.

Matt Cain (2-2, 2.28 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the

Giants in an effort to slow down Freese.

The right-hander has a 1.59 ERA in his past six starts, but has

just two wins to show for it thanks in part to getting an average

of 2.58 runs of support. That lack of help has been more pronounced

at home, where he’s 1-1 with a 1.09 ERA in four starts while being

backed by nine total runs.

Cain didn’t need much help from the bats Saturday, yielding one

run and three hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings of a 5-2

win at Arizona. He also helped himself with two hits, including a

two-run double.

“That’s the nice part about being in the National League,” he

said, “is you feel like you can benefit to the team in different

ways, whether it’s getting a bunt down or doing different things.

You always love to be able to contribute when you have a chance to

at the plate.”

Cain is 1-2 with a 4.29 ERA in six starts versus St. Louis.

The Cardinals will turn to Adam Wainwright (2-4, 6.16), who is

looking to show some improvement in order to win for the third time

in four starts.

The right-hander labored through his latest outing Saturday,

throwing a season-high 108 pitches through 4 1-3 innings while

allowing five runs and nine hits with a career-high five walks in a

7-2 loss to Atlanta.

Getting the ball in San Francisco may not bode well for

Wainwright – he’s lost his last three starts there with a 4.09

ERA.