The St. Louis Cardinals have come through in the clutch lately, and they'll try to continue that trend following a successful road trip.
Another strong outing at Busch Stadium from Adam Wainwright might also help the Cardinals begin a season-high 10-game homestand in winning fashion Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
St. Louis batted .202 with runners in scoring position in a 5-7 stretch earlier this month before reeling off a season-high five consecutive victories, a streak that ended with a 5-3 loss Wednesday to Miami.
The Cardinals (40-36) finished 6-3 on their road trip and were 29 for 65 (.446) with runners in scoring position over the final six games. Carlos Beltran, who is one hit shy of 2,000, was 6 for 11 (.545) in those situations with 11 RBIs, and Matt Holliday was 5 for 7 (.714).
The Cardinals batted .308 overall and outscored opponents 46-28 over the last six contests, but Wainwright (6-7, 4.32 ERA) might not need much support if he has another superb performance at home. The right-hander, though, will certainly use all the help he can get.
Wainwright is 2-1 with a 1.24 ERA over his last four starts at Busch Stadium, but is winless over his last two while receiving a combined three runs of support. His teammates gave him plenty of runs in an 8-2 win Saturday in Kansas City, where he allowed two runs over seven innings.
Wainwright, though, hasn't been as dominant lately against Pittsburgh (40-35) - posting a 4.19 ERA in his last six matchups. However, he's 5-1 in those games thanks to a combined 42 runs of support and a good portion came during a 10-7 win May 1.
Wainwright gave up a pair of two-run homers over seven innings during that game.
This time, the right-hander will face a team that's seeking a third straight win. The Pirates produced 16 runs and 21 hits over their final two games in Philadelphia, including a 5-4 victory Thursday, after compiling nine and 21, respectively, over three consecutive defeats.
While attempting to extend their win streak, Pittsburgh will send out Kevin Correia (3-6, 4.03), who is 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA over his last two starts. His lone mistake in six innings Sunday against Justin Verlander and Detroit was a two-run homer in the first inning, and he left without a decision in the 3-2 loss.
Correia is 1-4 with a 5.87 ERA in his last six road starts and 2-3 with a 3.65 ERA in his six overall against St. Louis. He's allowed a combined 16 runs in the three losses and zero in the other three games.
With the National League's top offense in place, one that will get better sometime next month with the expected return of Lance Berkman after knee surgery, the Cardinals' future this season will hinge on their pitching, which has been good to very good in the rotation and fair to not very good in the bullpen.
There has been a cause-and-effect issue in that Lance Lynn, counted on as a late inning setup man and occasional closer, had to move into the rotation when Chris Carpenter went down with a shoulder problem midway through spring training.
Good for the rotation. Lynn is 10-3. Bad for the bullpen, which has lost 14 games and has blown 11 saves although closer Jason Motte has been mostly successful with 16 saves in 20 attempts.
Mitchell Boggs has been a solid setup man, but the Cardinals have run into trouble from the sixth to the eighth. Fernando Salas, who had a club-high 24 saves last season, has been inconsistent and even took a turn in the minors. And left-hander Marc Rzepczynski, who has been valued because he can get both left-handers and right-handers out, has had a difficult time retiring right-handers and has issued some key walks.
The bullpen's 27 homers allowed, including back-to-backers on Wednesday off Salas and rookie Sam Freeman, rank second in the National League behind Houston.
It is reasonable to assume that general manager John Mozeliak is in the hunt for both a starter or reliever. But there is a better case for searching for two relievers, one right-handed and one left-handed. Last year, the Cardinals got right-hander Octavio Dotel from Toronto and signed veteran left-hander Arthur Rhodes as a free agent.
C Yadier Molina is in easy range of surpassing his career highs for home runs and runs batted in, established last year at 14 and 65, respectively. Already, Molina is at 12 and 44, and his average of .316 is also better than his career best of .305 from last season.
RHP Shelby Miller might have silenced some of the critics with a strong showing for Class AAA Memphis against Albuquerque on Wednesday. Miller, the Cardinals' top draft pick in 2009, has been told he needs to work on his breaking pitches, and this time he fanned eight and allowed just one run in five innings. His earned run average had been over 5.00.
LHP Max Foody, the 12th-round pick from IMG Academy in Florida, signed for $385,000, well above the slot for that round's pick. The Cardinals, who still are working to sign SS Alex Mejia and RHP Kurt Heyer, their fourth- and sixth-round selections from NCAA champion Arizona, are getting closer to their $9.1 million threshold, as determined by Major League Baseball.
RHPs Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook will be the starters for the weekend series with Pittsburgh. The Cardinals will close the first half with a 10-game homestand against the Pirates, Colorado (four games) and Miami before opening the second half at divisional rivals Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
RF Carlos Beltran, on course to start an All-Star Game for the first time in five years, is just seven RBI off his total of 66 in 2011 and already has hit five more homers (20 to 15).
By The Numbers:
4.46—Cardinals bullpen's earned run average, among the highest in the National League.
Quote To Note:
"They'd have to keep me on the first floor of the hotel on the road … because I'm not going to deal with that well."
—RHP Chris Carpenter, implying what his mental state would be if, when he does return to pitch after suffering from shoulder weakness, he was uncertain from start to start whether his arm would be strong enough to pitch the next time around.