MLB Insiders - St. Louis Cardinals

The Pirates open a three game series with the St.Louis Cardinals on Friday night at PNC Park. Lefty Paul Maholm will pitch for the Bucs. The Cards counter with right-hander Brad Thompson.

St. Louis tries to bounce back after a tough series against the NL Central leaders when they begin a three-game road series against the Pirates on Friday.

Although St. Louis has had mixed success against the Pirates this season, Pittsburgh comes in having lost six straight and 17 of 20. The Pirates, who have been outscored by an average of 3.4 runs in those 20 games, were swept in a four-game series against Houston this week, concluding with a 6-0 loss on Thursday.

They send Paul Maholm (8-8, 3.74 ERA) to the mound Friday as looks for his first win in five starts. In his last four outings, the left-hander is 0-1 with a 4.07 ERA, but allowed two or fewer earned runs in three of those outings.

On Saturday, Maholm allowed one run and seven hits over six innings of a 7-6 win over the San Francisco Giants.

Maholm is 2-3 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts against the Cardinals. In two starts against them this season, he is 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA.

Brad Thompson (5-2, 4.61) counters for St. Louis due to Kyle Lohse's five-game suspension. Thompson is making his fifth start of the season and 24th appearance. As a starter, he's 2-1 with a 3.05 ERA.

The Cardinals are all but out of wild-card contention after another frustrating one-run loss to Chicago. They are 1-10 in their last 11 one-run games, with their only win in that span coming on Tuesday against the Cubs.

The numbers are these: The Cardinals trail wild-card leader Milwaukee by 4 1/2 games, but Philadelphia and Houston both are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals. St. Louis doesn't play any of those teams the rest of the season.

A defense that had led the majors in fielding for much of the year contributed two more unearned runs. This time, it was first baseman Albert Pujols muffing a dribbler by Reed Johnson, giving the Cubs runners at first and second and nobody out in a scoreless game in the fifth.

Right-hander Todd Wellemeyer, who committed the sin of walking the leadoff man, Geovany Soto, to start the inning, walked two more before the frame was over, forcing in a run. An infield tap scored a second run, and the Cubs had two runs with no hits. They were never headed.

There were chances galore for the Cardinals in the late innings, mostly fruitless. Pinch hitter Josh Phelps fanned with the bases loaded to end the eighth after Cubs outfielders had robbed the Cardinals of two hits. And Pujols popped up with two on to end the game in the ninth after Brendan Ryan had overslid third when he had made the bag safely on Cesar Izturis' sacrifice attempt.

"It doesn't matter if you lose by 10 runs, two runs or half a run," Pujols said.

Wellemeyer said, "We had the opportunity do it, but we just couldn't get the guys across the plate."

CUBS 3, CARDINALS 2: 1B Albert Pujols reached the 100-RBI mark for the eighth consecutive year -- he has played only eight -- with a sixth-inning double that scored the Cardinals' first run. 3B Felipe Lopez also singled home a run in the inning, but the Cardinals stranded 10 runners and were 1-for-10 with men in scoring position.

--C Yadier Molina said he expected to miss only a couple of days after being plowed into by Cubs LHP Ted Lilly on a play at the plate Wednesday. "You don't expect a pitcher to do that," Molina said. "From now on, I will."

--RHP Chris Carpenter, who hasn't pitched since he worked an inning of relief nine days ago in Arizona, will be shut down for the season. Carpenter made three starts after missing more than a season following Tommy John surgery before he suffered a shoulder strain. He relieved just once after that, and he felt his arm wasn't strong enough to compete as a reliever.

--1B Albert Pujols joined Al Simmons and Ted Williams as the only players to have 100-RBI seasons in their first eight seasons in the majors.

--RHP Todd Wellemeyer (12-7) has lost three of his last four starts, although he has been supported by just two runs.

--INF Brendan Ryan doubled as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning, giving him four pinch hits in 13 at-bats.

BY THE NUMBERS: 25 -- Rick Ankiel has joined Babe Ruth as the only players to have made 25 or more starts as a pitcher in one season and hit 25 or more homers in another.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would think the idea this winter is to make some significant additions so we can be there." -- Manager Tony La Russa, on his hope that the club will better be able to challenge for a championship next season.

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