Slumping Cards visit slumping Braves for 3

1 ½ games behind Cincinnati, the St. Louis Cardinals invade Atlanta as both clubs look to regain their early-season consistency.

A three-game sweep in St. Louis two weeks ago propelled Atlanta to the top of the NL East, but the Braves haven't enjoyed much success since.

The Cardinals' current struggles, meanwhile, originated with that sweep by Atlanta.

In a matchup of two slumping clubs, the Braves try to avoid losing their eighth in a row Monday afternoon against St. Louis at Turner Field.

Atlanta (26-23) was one-half game back of Washington in the East heading into its series in St. Louis from May 11-13, and after outscoring the Cardinals 23-13 the Braves emerged with a one-half game lead. Atlanta has since dropped to fourth place, four games back of the division-leading Nationals, having lost 10 of 14 and seven in a row.

"We just haven't, as a whole, been playing like we're capable of playing,'' said Dan Uggla, who had one of the Braves' three hits in Sunday's 7-2 loss to Washington.

The offense has been awful during the franchise's longest losing streak since a nine-game skid in April 2010, scoring 18 runs while batting .180 to go with 66 strikeouts. Uggla is hitting .211 with two homers and three RBIs, while Jason Heyward is batting .150 with a home run and two RBIs.

Those two powered the offense at Busch Stadium earlier this month, with Heyward driving in five runs, while Uggla hit .385 with three doubles and three RBIs. Michael Bourn, second in the NL with 64 hits - but only three in his last five games - also had a big series, batting .471 with a homer and three RBIs.

The Cardinals (26-22) owned a 3 1/2-game lead atop the NL Central heading into their series with the Braves two weeks ago, but being swept by Atlanta initiated a 6-11 stretch that has dropped them 1 1/2 back of division-leading Cincinnati.

The Braves completed the sweep with a 7-4 victory on May 13, as Tommy Hanson (5-3, 3.12 ERA) outdueled Lance Lynn (7-1, 2.54), and those two will square off again Monday.

Despite Atlanta's struggles, Hanson has pitched well, yielding two runs or less in each of his last four starts. In St. Louis, the right-hander gave up a run and five hits while striking out a season-high nine in five innings to get the win.

He pitched well enough to get the victory Wednesday in Cincinnati, permitting a run and four hits in six innings, but didn't get much help from his offense and the Reds rallied for a 2-1 win.

Lynn's outing against the Braves earlier this month, in which he allowed three runs, four hits and three walks in six innings, began what has become a trend of shaky starts.

After posting a 1.40 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in winning his first six outings, the righty is 1-1 with a 5.00 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP in his last three. He gave up three runs, eight hits and three walks in six innings in Wednesday's 6-3 win over San Diego.

The Cardinals had lost three in a row following that victory before defeating Philadelphia 8-3 on Sunday.

"We needed this win," catcher Yadier Molina told the Cardinals' official website. "I'm proud for our team."

Molina hit a grand slam Sunday, while Carlos Beltran connected on a three-run homer for his NL-leading 15th and rookie Matt Adams added a solo shot. It was the first career homer for Adams, who is hitting .345 with four doubles in eight games filling in for injured first baseman Lance Berkman.

Molina, batting .563 with two homers and eight RBIs during a four-game hitting streak, left due to dehydration in the 90-degree heat Sunday and his status is uncertain.

Brian McCann, Atlanta's All-Star catcher, could return for the opener. He has not started since last Monday due to an illness.

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