The Cardinals and Pirates have fallen well off the Brewers' pace, and it might be too late for either to catch up as they begin a four-game series at Busch Stadium on Thursday night.
Going for the series sweep in Pittsburgh that would have given them sole possession of the Central lead, the Cardinals fell 4-3 in 10 innings on July 24 to create a three-way tie with the Pirates and Brewers.
Milwaukee, though, has gone 24-5 since to build a seemingly insurmountable 10-game lead over second-place St. Louis (67-63), which has dropped 10 of 15 after losing three straight this week to visiting Los Angeles.
The Pirates (61-68) are in a far more precarious spot, facing a 15 1/2-game deficit, but they avoided falling further back Wednesday by winning 2-0 and splitting a four-game set with Milwaukee.
The Pirates, though, will have to go 21-12 to finish above .500 for the first time in 19 years. If that's going to happen, they'll have to play better on the road, where they've lost nine of 12.
Pittsburgh opens a stretch of 10 of 11 as the visitor Thursday—it has a home makeup game against the Dodgers next week—with Charlie Morton (9-6, 3.42 ERA) on the mound.
The right-hander is 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA in 11 starts against divisional foes after allowing two runs over six innings in Saturday's 5-3 victory over Cincinnati.
Morton is 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA in his last four starts against St. Louis after going 0-3 with an 11.70 ERA in the first three.
With Cardinals starters posting a 5.43 ERA during a 3-8 skid, La Russa needs another solid outing from Edwin Jackson (2-2, 4.45) in the series opener.
The right-hander has received an average of 5.01 runs in five starts since being acquired from Toronto, but the Cardinals gave him no room for error in Saturday's 3-0 loss in Chicago.
The Cardinals completed one of their most ignominious home series in recent years Wednesday when they were belted again by the Los Angeles Dodgers, 9-4 at Busch Stadium.
The ballpark may have been red-hot (98 degrees), but the Cardinals were not as they were outscored 22-6 in the last two games of the series after losing the opener, 2-1, in the ninth inning. The Dodgers hadn't swept a three-game series in St. Louis since virtually the exact same dates -- Aug. 20-22 in 1993.
"When you get swept at home, that's as bad as it can get," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "The last two games, we've been out of it."
Los Angeles had lost its first six series at new Busch since it opened in 2006 and was 3-15 overall before bagging this three-game set.
Left-hander Jaime Garcia also continued not to slump. Garcia didn't last past the fifth inning for the fourth time in his last five starts, giving up seven runs in five innings.
Garcia (10-7) had a 1-0 lead entering the third but walked the first two hitters in that inning, and the next six Dodgers also reached base in a six-run rally.
"When stuff like that happens, you've got to step off and think about the pitch you're going to make," Garcia said. "Just relax for a little bit and try to limit the damage.
"I'm not going to lie. Sometimes, I don't do a very good job. But I'm trying."
Since signing a four-year contract extension last month, Garcia is 1-4 in eight starts and is winless in his last six.
The Cardinals, who have lost seven of their last nine games, were swept for the second time at home this season. Toronto dusted them in a three-game set on June 24-26.
--With the Cardinals 10 games out of first place and only 32 games remaining, the Cardinals are more likely to be sellers than buyers. General manager John Mozeliak didn't necessarily reject that theory but didn't anticipate major trade action and said that interest in his players had been marginal. "Right now, we would consider anything," Mozeliak said. "If somebody has interest in our players, definitely we would listen. But, as far as potential trades, I don't feel like we're likely to be engaged in that. A lot of times when you're dealing with (his own) players who are potential free agents, they do have draft pick value, so that gets weighed into things. But I don't look at doing any additions unless it really makes sense or has impact for future years."
--When the Cardinals can expand their roster next Thursday, Memphis shortstop Tyler Greene, who has failed in several trials with the Cardinals but really hasn't played more than a few games in succession, is expected to get an extended shot. Greene, 28, is hitting .338 with 14 homers in 216 at-bats at Memphis, has an on-base percentage of .425 and has stolen 15 bases in 16 attempts to go with the Cardinals' team high of nine he stole in nine tries while he was in the majors. "I would like to see (Greene) get more of an opportunity to play, just so we can have a better idea for planning 2012," said Mozeliak.
--2B Skip Schumaker, a day after making his professional pitching debut, stroked four singles, giving him five straight hits over two games. Schumaker, hitting .301, hadn't been over .300 since April 6 when he was at .318 on seven-for-22.
--LHP Jaime Garcia, his concentration failing him as he didn't back up bases on two consecutive hits, gave up seven runs in five innings, marking the most runs he had given up at home in his two seasons as a starter. His ERA at home shot up from 2.06 to .2.73.
--C Gerald Laird hit his first homer as a Cardinal, delivering a two-run shot off Los Angeles RHP Hiroki Kuroda in the seventh inning. Laird caught all nine innings on the hottest day for a Cardinals home game at 98 degrees.
--1B Albert Pujols has hit safely in his first at-bat in each of the last four games. A ball was thrown from the third-base stands that sailed past Pujols while he was in the field in the third inning but it missed him by some 10 feet. The culprit was not immediately apprehended.
BY THE NUMBERS: 32-30 -- Cardinals' record at home. They were 52-29 at home last year. QUOTE TO NOTE: "I compliment them and what they've done. But the reality is that we just didn't play good baseball here." -- General manager John Mozeliak, talking about Milwaukee and his own club.
--INF Ryan Theriot (hamstring) was out Aug. 21-23. He pinch-hit on Aug. 24.
--RHP Lance Lynn (strained left oblique) went on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 10.
--INF Nick Punto (strained left oblique) went on the 15-day disabled list July 29.
--RHP Eduardo Sanchez (mild right shoulder strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 13. He began a rehab assignment with Class AA Springfield on July 7 but had renewed soreness soon after and was shut down until late August or early September. He was transferred to the 60-day DL on July 31.
--RHP Adam Wainwright (Tommy John surgery in February 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 25. He will miss the entire 2011 season.