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(AP) — Eliminated from postseason play, the St. Louis Cardinals can now look toward next year. Rookie right-hander P.J. Walters would still like to make one more solid impression in 2010.

Making his first start since June 1, Walters gets the ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on Wednesday.

After winning its first NL Central title since its 2006 World Series championship season last year, St. Louis (81-76) was eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday when Cincinnati defeated Houston to clinch the division title.

A 7-2 loss to the major league-worst Pirates (56-101) later Tuesday was just another painful reminder of a disappointing season.

“Our greatest fans, how do they feel right now? That’s how we feel,” manager Tony La Russa said.

While St. Louis can’t erase a 9-21 stretch from Aug. 14-Sept. 15 that essentially knocked it out of the playoff race, Walters (1-0, 7.83 ERA) is hoping a solid finale can put a positive spin on a disappointing year spent shuffling between the Cardinals and Triple-A Memphis.

With starters Jeff Suppan, Brad Penny and Jake Westbrook approaching free agency, Walters is also hoping to earn a spot in the rotation next season.

“Everybody likes to end on a good note,” he told the Cardinals’ official website. “You want to finish strong and get ready for next year. I’ve just got to do my job and get outs.”

After getting called up for the third time this season and making his first major league appearance in nearly two months, Walters struck out a season-high six and gave up five runs in a four-inning relief appearance in an 11-6 loss at Pittsburgh last Wednesday.

In his last start, Walters allowed seven runs and eight hits in a 9-8 loss to the Reds.

With a chance to win their season-best fourth straight series and first at Busch Stadium since May 13-15, 2008, the Pirates will give the ball to James McDonald (4-5, 4.25).

The right-hander, 4-4 with a 3.72 ERA in 10 starts since being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 trade deadline, will look to close his season strong after surrendering three runs and five hits in four innings while not receiving a decision in Friday’s 10-7 loss to Houston.

“He’s got one more start and he really, really wants to make it,” manager John Russell told the Pirates’ official website. “I respect that. I think his next start he should be much more efficient.”

McDonald went 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA in four relief appearances against the Cardinals in 2009.

Albert Pujols, who became the first Cardinal to walk 100 times in three consecutive seasons Tuesday, is batting .389 with five homers and 12 RBIs against Pittsburgh in 2010.

First baseman Garrett Jones, 2 for 2 against Walters, went 3 for 5 with a two-run homer Tuesday as Pittsburgh ended a seven-game losing streak at Busch Stadium.

St. Louis is a victory away from posting its 12th winning season in 15 years under La Russa.

By MATT BEARDMORE,

STATS Writer