Saturday - Game Day Preview

It's the final series at Busch Stadium this week as the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Cincinnati Reds.

GAME: Cincinnati Reds (73-87) at St. Louis Cardinals (98-62).

TIME: Saturday, 4:15 p.m. EDT.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa is using the final weekend of the regular season to set up his pitching staff for the playoffs.

Jason Marquis will start in place of Jeff Suppan when the NL Central champions continue their regular season-ending three-game set with the visiting Cincinnati Reds.

La Russa said he was going with Marquis against the Reds in the next-to-last game of the season "because we want to beat Cincinnati and he's pitched better against Cincinnati." He said Suppan would be ready this weekend in case one of his starters gets knocked out early, but added he also wanted to get his bullpen ready for the postseason.

"Suppan's put in his season, he's had his hell of a year," La Russa said. "So he doesn't need tomorrow to be ready for the playoffs."

Beyond that, La Russa wouldn't say.

"You asked about tomorrow, right?" he said. "That's the answer for tomorrow. How many times do we have to say we're only talking about the weekend?

"It's not the time to talk about the playoffs."

Two days off in the final week, on Monday and Thursday, forced a decision for La Russa. Suppan is 16-10 with a 3.57 ERA, and Marquis, a harder thrower, is 13-14 with a 4.03 ERA.

The first three in the Cardinals' postseason rotation appears set with Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder and Matt Morris. Game 4 would be next Sunday on the road.

Suppan, whose last outing was Sunday, pitched on more than 10 days' rest in his playoff debut. He won two games in the playoffs last fall, the clinchers in both the division series and NLCS. This after being the rotation member most likely to get bumped, until Carpenter was sidelined with a biceps injury.

"As a starter you have to be able to adapt to what is put in front of you," Suppan said. "Obviously, you don't like to wait that long but sometimes you have to."

Suppan learned the news on Friday and didn't seem upset.

"Obviously, if you get the opportunity that's great," Suppan said. "Everyone has pitched well this year, everyone deserves to start.

"Really I'm just getting ready to pitch, whenever that is."

Marquis endured a midseason stretch in which he won only one of 13 starts but has recovered in recent outings. He's 4-1 in his last five starts with a 1.38 ERA, including seven innings against the Reds on Sept. 21 in which he allowed one run.

Marquis didn't read anything into this start leading to a playoff start.

"If it does, it does," Marquis said. "I'll be prepared, I'll be ready to go."

The Cardinals hardly looked like a team playing out the string Friday. Albert Pujols hit a grand slam for his 200th career homer as St. Louis overcame 10 walks from its pitching staff to outslug Cincinnati 12-6 in the series opener.

David Eckstein matched his season high with four hits, drove in two runs and had a steal for the Cardinals, who are 4-8 since clinching the Central. St. Louis needs to sweep the series to reach 100 victories in consecutive seasons for only the second time in franchise history.

Felipe Lopez had two hits and two RBIs for the Reds, who have lost five of six.

STANDINGS: Reds - 5th place, 25 GB, NL Central. Cardinals - 1st place, NL Central.

REDS PROBABLE STARTER: Ramon Ortiz (9-11, 5.23 ERA). Ortiz is 1-1 with a 4.41 ERA in five starts this month. He did not receive a decision in Cincinnati's 12-9 loss at Milwaukee on Monday, surrendering five runs and five hits over five innings. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 7.71 ERA in three career starts against the Cardinals. On the road this year, Ortiz is 2-6 with a 4.77 ERA in 14 outings.

CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTER: Marquis (13-14, 4.03 ERA). Marquis is 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA in eight career starts against the Reds. At home this year, he is 6-7 with a 4.61 ERA in 16 appearances, including 15 starts.

OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Reds - Sean Casey, .312 avg.; Adam Dunn, 39 HRs, 100 RBIs and 106 runs; Ryan Freel, 36 SBs. Cardinals - Pujols, .330 avg., 40 HRs, 115 RBIs, 126 runs and 16 SBs.

SEASON SERIES: Cardinals, 9-5.

STREAKS AND NOTES: Reds - The Reds are five homers shy of the franchise record of 221, set in 1956. ... Nine Reds have at least 10 homers, one shy of the franchise record set in 1999 and 2000. Edwin Encarnacion needs two homers to join that group. ... Cincinnati is 1-4 on its season-ending seven-game road trip. Cardinals - 1B Pujols has four career grand slams and Friday's made him, at 25 years and 257 days, the third-fastest player to reach 200 homers, behind only Hall of Famers Mel Ott and Eddie Mathews. In terms of games played, he's the second-fastest to 200 at 4 years and 181 days, trailing only Ralph Kiner, who did it in 4 years and 119 days. ... Mark McGwire made his first appearance at Busch Stadium this season as part of a final-weekend reunion at the 40-year-old ballpark. He participated in the stadium countdown Friday, removing the number 3 from the right-field wall after the end of the fifth. ... LHP Ray King was ejected Friday after walking 1B Dunn on a full count with the bases loaded in the sixth. Before leaving, King went to the plate to talk to plate umpire Travis Reininger.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Reds - 31-48 on the road; Cardinals - 48-31 at home.

INJURIES: Reds - RHP Ryan Wagner (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Jung Keun Bong (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Paul Wilson (shoulder), 60-day DL; INF Luis Lopez (hamstring), 60-day DL. Cardinals - IF Scott Rolen (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Mike Lincoln (elbow), 15-day DL.


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