Cardinals-Marlins Preview

The St. Louis Cardinals may be eyeing another series with the

team they’re chasing in the NL Central, but overlooking the Florida

Marlins could be costly.

The Cardinals will try to avoid losing more ground in the

division chase when they face the surging Marlins in the opener of

a four-game set Thursday night.

St. Louis (58-53) led the Central as recently as last week but

has dropped five of eight to fall 3 1/2 games back of

Milwaukee.

The Cardinals blew a chance to get closer this week, losing two

of three to the Brewers in an emotional series capped by

Wednesday’s 10-5 defeat. The rivals were embroiled in a bean-ball

exchange the previous day with stars Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun

getting hit, while Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had words with

heckling Milwaukee fans.

St. Louis hosts the Brewers for a three-game set that begins

Tuesday.

First, the Cardinals need to remain focused on the Marlins

(55-55), who are looking to move above .500 for the first time

since June 11. Florida has won eight of 10, averaging 6.3 runs in

those victories while batting .295 with 16 homers.

St. Louis’ starting pitching is coming off a bad run through the

rotation, giving up 31 runs in 28 innings over five games.

That stretch began with Kyle Lohse (9-7, 3.33 ERA) falling

behind 5-0 in the first inning against the Cubs on Saturday, but he

lasted five innings and got a win as the Cardinals rallied for a

13-5 victory.

It was the fourth time in five outings that Lohse, who hasn’t

won back-to-back starts since May, has given up at least five runs.

He also allowed five in his first start versus Florida this year

but did not get a decision after going six innings in a 6-5 loss

May 2.

Lohse is 1-2 with a 6.56 ERA in his last four starts against the

Marlins and has lost his past two in Miami, allowing 11 runs in 11

innings.

It’s unclear if Pujols’ left wrist is still an issue. He went 0

for 5 with two strikeouts Wednesday after getting hit near where he

broke the wrist earlier this season. He went 1 for 14 in the

Milwaukee series after getting eight hits – six for extra bases –

in his previous four games.

“He’ll never admit to anything. It is what it is,” La Russa told

the team’s official website. “I’m sure he’s sore. No excuses.”

The Cardinals and Marlins split four games in St. Louis from May

2-5.

Florida manager Jack McKeon doesn’t feel his team has lost any

momentum after the conclusion of a three-game set with New York was

postponed due to rain Wednesday. Florida took the first two of that

series.

“I don’t think it messes up things too bad,” McKeon said. “It

just gives the pitchers an extra day, which is good. That doesn’t

hurt us there.”

Clay Hensley (1-3, 3.09 ERA) gets the ball after an extra day

off.

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA in three starts

following a stint on the disabled list with a sprained

shoulder.

Hensley, used as a reliever for the majority of his six-year

career, cruised through six shutout innings before allowing three

runs and getting pulled after the seventh of a 5-0 loss at Atlanta

on Friday.

He’s 2-0 with a 2.65 ERA in seven games versus the Cardinals,

winning his only start against them with San Diego on May 26,

2006.

The Marlins are expecting Hanley Ramirez to return during this

series after he sprained his shoulder Tuesday while diving for a

pop fly.

St. Louis will be without catcher Yadier Molina, who was

suspended for five games Thursday after bumping an umpire several

times and spraying him with spittle during a run-in this week.