Astros-Cardinals Preview

(AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals’ longest game in more than two years didn’t go their way, but the team remains in the playoff hunt.

The major league-worst Houston Astros aren’t even close to contention, but interim manager Tony DeFrancesco still plans to treat the final stretch like a pennant chase.

Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright will try to win his sixth straight start against the Astros on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.

With a chance to tie division rival Pittsburgh in the standings, St. Louis (65-56) fell 6-3 to the Pirates in 19 innings Sunday in a game that took 6 hours, 7 minutes. It was the Cardinals’ longest game since going 20 innings against the New York Mets on April 17, 2010.

“I don’t know if it could be any more disappointing,” manager Mike Matheny told the Cardinals’ official website.

Chasing down NL Central-leading Cincinnati might be a stretch, but St. Louis is still well within striking distance of a wild-card spot.

“We’ve got to win every series. It doesn’t matter who it’s against,” Matheny said.

The Astros (39-83) seem like the perfect opponent for the Cardinals, who have nine more games against Houston as they look to make another late-season playoff push.

The majors’ worst road team at 12-48, the Astros haven’t won a series in an NL opponent’s park this season.

The Astros make their first visit to St. Louis in 2012 – these clubs have split six games at Houston – with an 0-1 record since DeFrancesco, the former manager of the franchise’s Triple-A affiliate, replaced the fired Brad Mills following Saturday’s 12-4 loss to Arizona.

“My first major league managing game didn’t work out the way I wanted it,” DeFrancesco said after an 8-1 loss to the Diamondbacks on Sunday. “But it was an honor to put the Astros uniform on and be part of the organization.”

While Houston’s management will use the final six weeks of the season to evaluate talent on the NL’s youngest team, DeFrancesco will also be under the microscope with first-year owner Jim Crane hoping to name a permanent manager by Nov. 1.

“If there’s a guy that comes in and knocks our socks off, it might be in two weeks,” Crane said.

DeFrancesco may have a hard time getting his first win with Wainwright (11-10, 3.87 ERA) taking the ball. The right-hander, 4-0 with a 2.04 ERA in his past five outings overall, is 11-1 with a 1.59 ERA in 13 starts against Houston after recording victories at Minute Maid Park on May 6 and June 6.

Wainwright has held the Astros without a run over 16 innings in his last two home starts in the series.

Lucas Harrell (10-8, 3.81), who has accounted for three of Houston’s seven wins over its last 47 games, will try to help the club end a four-game skid in his first career start at St. Louis. The Missouri native has allowed four runs – three earned – in each of his two starts against the Cardinals this season, winning both.

The right-hander has given up two runs or fewer in each of his seven starts since the All-Star break, posting a 2.06 ERA in that stretch.

St. Louis third baseman David Freese, 3 for 7 with two doubles off Harrell, is tied with Allen Craig and Tyler Greene for the most homers (two) by a Cardinal off Houston pitching in 2012.

Greene, though, will be in an Astros jersey for this three-game set after the Cardinals traded him Aug. 9 for a player to be named later or cash considerations.