Reds fall to Cards, St. Louis close to wild card

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals needed this one a lot more than the Cincinnati Reds. The NL Central champions are in tune-up mode.

The Reds are tied with the Washington Nationals for the best record in the NL at 96-64 after a 4-2 loss Monday night to the Cardinals, who clinched a tie for the second NL wild card. The final series for Cincinnati, which got manager Dusty Baker back from a mini-stroke that sidelined him for 11 games, is a dress rehearsal.

“Right now, it’s about preservation and conservation,” Baker said. “It was a matter of trying to win the game, but trying to get your guys fresh at the same time.”

Baker was able to rest outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who played just five innings. Ludwick had missed the previous eight games with tightness in his left groin.

Second baseman Brandon Phillips was removed after the seventh. He suffered tightness in his left leg on Sunday and appeared to tweak the leg again while running the bases in the third inning Monday.

“I’m good, nothing to worry about,” Phillips said. “I’m going to be ready to perform and go out there and try to lead the team.”

Starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo exited after five innings allowing three earned runs on six hits and throwing 73 pitches.

“I’m ready to go,” Arroyo said. “I’m as good as I’m ever going to be. My command is good, my stuff is there and I’m healthy.

“We’ve done all we can at this point.”

Jaime Garcia homered off Arroyo and pitched into the seventh for St. Louis.

The defending World Series champions have won 11 of 14 and lead the Los Angeles Dodgers by two games. The Dodgers beat the Giants on Monday night.

One more loss by the Dodgers or another Cardinals win would wrap up a playoff spot for St. Louis and a visit to Atlanta for the wild-card game Friday.

Arroyo (12-10) threw 73 pitches while allowing three runs over five innings in a tuneup for the postseason. He topped 200 innings for the seventh time but is 0-3 in his last four starts.

“Bronson has been pitching a lot better than his record indicates,” Baker said. “He’s probably one of the tough-luck guys in our league at getting run support.

“He keeps pitching like this and we’ll get him some runs.”

Garcia (7-7) made it 5 for 5 at the plate against Arroyo when he led off the third with a drive that just cleared the right-field wall for his second career homer, although the perfect run ended when he flied out to right to end the fourth.

Garcia gave up six hits, including three singles in a span of four at-bats in the third, with Brandon Phillips getting an RBI. Scott Rolen doubled, advanced on a passed ball and scored on Ryan Hanigan’s sacrifice fly in the seventh.

The lefty has been a major asset at home throughout his career, going 20-11 with a 2.48 ERA at Busch Stadium, the lowest career mark of any pitcher with 10 or more starts, including 4-2 with a 2.82 ERA in nine starts this year. He’s 3-5 with a 5.02 ERA in 11 road starts this year and 14-12 with a 4.47 ERA overall.

Allen Craig and Yadier Molina added an RBI apiece in a three-run third, and Daniel Descalso had an RBI triple in the sixth that made it 4-1. Jason Motte worked a perfect ninth with two strikeouts for his 41st save in 48 chances.

Arroyo has allowed 26 homers, tied for third-most in the NL with Bailey and fellow Reds pitcher Mike Leake. … Reds pitchers combined for seven strikeouts to set a franchise record with 1,231, breaking the mark of 1,227 in 2008. … Motte has all of the Cardinals’ saves. The franchise has never gone a season with just one pitcher getting all of the saves.