In the middle of a competitive NL Central race, the St. Louis Cardinals are not heading into the All-Star break in an ideal fashion.
The Cardinals once again look to break out of their offensive funk when they open a three-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.St. Louis (51-42) had scored 33 runs in winning four of five games between June 28-July 2, but its offense has been virtually nonexistent since.The Cardinals lost 4-1 to Philadelphia on Thursday, completing a three-game series at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park in which they managed five total runs and lost twice. St. Louis, which has dropped five of seven overall, has scored two runs or fewer in six of those games, and is 7-for-47 (.149) with runners in scoring position over that span."We just haven't put a streak together with a bunch of base hits in one inning," All-Star Albert Pujols told the Cardinals' official Web site. "We've got a hit here and there, a couple of hits, but we haven't gotten the big hit we need."With Thursday's loss, the Cardinals fell one-half game behind second-place Milwaukee in the Central, and 4 1/2 games back of the division-leading Chicago Cubs.While a visit to middling Pittsburgh (43-48) seems like it could reverse St. Louis' fortunes, the Cardinals are just 4-5 against the Pirates this season.Pujols, though, is 15-for-30 with two home runs and seven RBIs in the nine games against the Pirates. He is also 8-for-19 (.421) with a homer lifetime against Friday's scheduled Pittsburgh starter Zach Duke (4-5, 4.23 ERA).The Cardinals' Kyle Lohse (10-2, 3.61 ERA), meanwhile, may be the most surprising 10-game winner in the majors.Lohse, who went 9-12 with Cincinnati and Philadelphia last season, has already reached double digits in victories for the first time since winning a career-best 14 games for Minnesota in 2003. He has provided stability to a Cardinals' starting rotation dealing with injuries to Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Mark Mulder.On Saturday, Lohse gave up two runs and six hits in seven innings of a 5-4 win over the Cubs, although he did not factor in the decision. The right-hander has yielded two runs or fewer in seven of his last nine starts.Pittsburgh defeated the New York Yankees 4-2 on Thursday in a makeup for a June 26 rainout. The Pirates have now won three of four, after winning only three of their previous 10 games.All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth's 18th homer -- a two-run shot -- gave Pittsburgh the lead in the seventh inning. McLouth is 9-for-23 (.391) with three home runs and nine RBIs in his last five games. He also has three homers and seven RBIs in nine games versus the Cardinals this season.Duke has alternated good and bad outings in his last four starts, allowing 10 runs in 7 1-3 innings in his two poor outings, and one run over 12 innings in his other two.On Sunday, the left-hander surrendered six runs and seven hits in a season-low 2 1-3 innings, although he didn't get charged with the decision in an 11-6 loss to Milwaukee. He gave up two home runs to the Brewers after allowing just five homers in 102 innings over his first 17 starts of the season.