Royals-Cardinals Preview

(AP) — Despite having their most productive hitter sidelined because of a stomach virus, the St. Louis Cardinals broke out of their prolonged slump in their last game.

Carlos Beltran is expected to return Friday night for what would be his first game against the visiting Kansas City Royals – the team that drafted him 17 years ago – in the season’s first installment of the I-70 Series.

After totaling seven runs in the first five games of their homestand, the Cardinals (33-31) finally showed some signs of life offensively Thursday, beating the Chicago White Sox 5-3. David Freese homered, doubled and drove in three runs, while cleanup hitter Allen Craig doubled twice and scored three times.

St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was encouraged by Freese’s performance and hopes it’s a sign of things to come.

“You could tell in batting practice that he found something,” Matheny said. “He translated that into the game. This is where he needs to be.”

Beltran has seemed to have the right approach at the plate all season. He leads the NL with 19 homers and is batting .462 with four home runs and two doubles during a seven-game hitting streak.

One of the only things to slow down the six-time All-Star was his illness, which forced him to go to the emergency room Wednesday night. He sat out Thursday, but said after the game he would play Friday against Kansas City.

The Royals (27-34) selected Beltran in the second round of the 1995 draft, and he was the AL rookie of the year four years later. He spent his first six-plus seasons with Kansas City before being traded to Houston in June 2004, and the Royals are the only team he’s never faced.

The Cardinals have won 12 of the last 17 meetings with their Missouri rival.

Matt Holliday had a .435 on-base percentage with two homers and six RBIs in six games against the Royals last season, and scheduled starter Kyle Lohse (6-1, 2.90 ERA) has a 1.00 ERA in his last three outings against them.

Lohse allowed three hits and two walks in a season-high 7 2-3 innings in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Cleveland to improve his career record to 108-107. The right-hander has been outstanding in his last two starts, posting a 0.66 ERA while surrendering just five hits in 13 2-3 innings after recording a 5.70 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .347 in his previous four.

The Royals arrive in St. Louis after beating Milwaukee 4-3 on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep, their first since April 29-May 1, 2011. All three victories over the Brewers were by one run and the last two were walk-off wins.

“In the past, when we’d lose one-run games or two-run games it was because we didn’t get the big hit when we needed it,” outfielder Mitch Maier told the Royals’ official website. “You don’t get those hits, you lose. It was nice to finally get that in a series.”

Maier scored the tying run in the ninth inning Thursday on Brayan Pena’s RBI single and the speedy Jarrod Dyson came around to score the winning run when the throw went to second base.

Going for their first four-game winning streak since May 12-15, the Royals give the ball to Vin Mazzaro, who has a 5.73 ERA in two starts against the Cardinals.

In Pittsburgh on Saturday, Mazzaro (2-1, 3.60) picked up his first major league hit and RBI in the fourth but fell apart in the bottom half of the inning. The right-hander walked a batter, hit a man and allowed two hits without recording an out in the fourth before being removed, and all those runners scored in a 5-3 loss.