HOUSTON — Although the Astros dropped their series finale Sunday afternoon versus the Colorado Rockies in one of the most lopsided defeats in franchise history, Houston will look to bounce back Monday night and attempt to spoil the St. Louis Cardinals’ chances of surging past the Atlanta Braves over the final three regular-season games in the race for the NL Wild Card.
The Cardinals enter the series opener Monday just one game behind Atlanta in the NL Wild Card standing after taking the final two games at home against the Chicago Cubs over the weekend.
Their playoff hopes appeared to be fading during Saturday’s game until Cubs closer Carlos Marmol suffered a ninth-inning meltdown.
St. Louis rallied for a 2-1 win to make up for their stunning 8-6 loss to the Mets only two days earlier, thus keeping the threat alive.
With Atlanta hosting the 2011 NL East-champion Philadelphia Phillies for their final three games, the Cardinals receive the more favorable matchup by taking on the major league-worst Astros.
After finishing 5-10 against the Astros last season, St. Louis enters Monday’s opener with an 8-4 record during the 2011 campaign.
Wandy Rodriguez presents a major obstacle for St. Louis on Monday, considering the standout lefty posted seven stellar innings in a 5-3 win over the Cardinals on July 28 at Busch Stadium.
The 32-year-old Rodriguez defeated St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia and ironically draws the same matchup at Minute Maid Park.
Rodriguez features a 3.51 ERA — sixth in the NL among left-handed starters — after compiling a 5.40 ERA over his first five starts.
He is 10-8 with a 3.14 ERA over his last 24 starts and even took over the all-time franchise lead in strikeouts (1,002) by a southpaw.
The Astros/Cardinals represent an authentic divisional rivalry, with the 2011 season adding a little extra plot due to Lance Berkman.
Berkman, a longtime Astros icon, signed with St. Louis last offseason and transformed himself back into a MVP-caliber slugger.
He recently inked a one-year, $12 million contract extension with St. Louis, thus assuring his return to the NL Central next season.
Astros manager Brad Mills continues to take an active interest in the AL and NL Wild Card races down the stretch and wants nothing more than to watch his team step up in Major League Baseball’s spotlight over the next three games and spoil it for St. Louis.
“There’s no doubt about the added value to this series,” Mills said. “We were in Chicago and Cincy, and had hosted Philly before that. The Phillies are a good ballclub. They already clinched. Matching up against them and playing well against them was big. It’s the same thing with the Cardinals coming in. We want to match up and play well against them. It matters a lot.
“Did you see their game on Saturday? The highlights on that were incredible. They won 2-1. It’s unbelievable how St. Louis came back against Marmol. 1-0 in the ninth and can’t throw a strike. The winning run came across on a wild pitch with two outs in the ninth. That one canceled out the Thursday game they should have won. Yes, this next series means something to us.
“We can affect the playoff race.”
Jake Westbrook and ace Chris Carpenter will get the starting nod for St. Louis in the final two games, while the Astros plan to counter with rookie right-hander Henry Sosa and veteran Brett Myers.
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