Braves-Cardinals Preview

(AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals have a chance for their longest winning streak since the Atlanta Braves were swept in their last visit to Busch Stadium.

The Braves would probably like to forget that series after what followed.

St. Louis goes for a fifth consecutive victory and an eighth in a row at home in this series Friday night when the Braves try to get their offense back in gear.

Since losing a season-high three straight, the NL Central-leading Cardinals (20-11) have averaged 7.5 runs during their winning streak. They completed their first sweep of the season and a 4-2 trip with Wednesday’s 7-2 victory over Arizona.

St. Louis opens a five-game homestand looking for its first five-game run since Sept. 6-11.

The final three games of that surge came against Atlanta as the Cardinals pulled within 4 1/2 games of the wild card-leading Braves. St. Louis then won 11 of its next 16 to pass Atlanta, which dropped 10 of 15 to cap a historic September collapse.

After winning the World Series, longtime Cardinals manager Tony La Russa retired, and he’ll have his No. 10 retired by the team Friday.

The Braves (19-13), though, have more current concerns after totaling four runs while losing two of three to the Chicago Cubs this week.

Atlanta had scored 44 runs in its previous five contests.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’d love to score five, six, eight, 10 runs a game. But the reality is that’s not going to happen every night,” second baseman Dan Uggla told the Braves’ official website following Wednesday’s 1-0 loss.

Two of the team’s five highest-scoring games this season have come with Friday’s scheduled starter Mike Minor (2-2, 5.97 ERA) on the hill.

The left-hander has one of the NL’s highest run-support averages at 6.21, but he’s allowed a career high in runs in each of his last two starts. After giving up seven in a 9-3 loss at Pittsburgh on April 30, he yielded eight in Saturday’s 13-9 victory at Colorado.

He will make his first start in St. Louis and may get his first look at Lance Berkman, who has missed the last 19 games with a strained left calf but could be activated Friday.

“We’ll see how it goes, but that’s what we’re talking about,” Berkman, who was 8 for 20 against Braves pitching last season, told the Cardinals’ official website.

It’s also uncertain if Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina will be able to go. He missed Wednesday’s game after getting hit on his left hand by a fastball from teammate Mitchell Boggs on Tuesday.

If Molina isn’t ready, Tony Cruz would be behind the plate as Jaime Garcia (2-2, 3.76) gets the ball.

The left-hander has surrendered nine runs while losing his last two outings.

“The problem was the walks,” Garcia said Saturday after giving up a season-high four free passes in an 8-2 loss at Houston.

Garcia is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in three starts versus Atlanta, walking none while allowing three runs in six innings of a 4-3 victory Sept. 10.

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, 2 for 3 with a homer off Garcia, had two home runs and seven RBIs during an Atlanta sweep last weekend at Colorado but was 1 for 9 in Chicago.

Chipper Jones, who also had seven RBIs in Denver, begins what is likely his final series in St. Louis with retirement plans following this season. The 40-year-old third baseman has only five homers there, his fewest in any NL city.

The Cardinals won five of six versus Atlanta in 2011 despite not hitting any homers. They haven’t lost to the Braves at home since Sept. 13, 2009.