The St. Louis Cardinals have struggled in close games in the second half of the season and manager Tony La Russa feels it could cost them a spot in the postseason.
Fortunately for La Russa and the Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates have made it easy on their opponents recently.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.St. Louis (78-68) is 4 1/2 games behind Milwaukee for the wild card. The Cardinals, who also trail Houston and Philadelphia in that race, lost two of three to the division-leading Chicago Cubs this week, including a 3-2 loss on Thursday."Those are the games that didn't turn around, and that's the reason we're in as difficult a spot as we're in," said La Russa, whose team is 1-10 in one-run games since July 22. "Those are all winnable games."Albert Pujols became only the third player in major league history to reach 100 RBIs in his first eight major league seasons after he hit an RBI double in the sixth inning. Al Simmons did it his first 11 seasons, and Ted Williams also did it his first eight."Hopefully I can continue to do it," he told the Cardinals' official Web site. "Every year it gets tougher and tougher. Mentally and physically."After going 5-for-13 in the series with the Cubs, Pujols looks to extend a seven-game hitting streak on Friday. He is batting .442 (23-for-52) with five doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in 14 games against the Pirates this season. Pittsburgh and St. Louis have split those contests, while St. Louis has won three of five at PNC Park, where Pujols is 9-for-19 (.474).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 right-hander's last appearance was on Sept. 1 against Arizona, when he allowed two hits in one inning of relief work. He hasn't started since Aug. 15 against the Reds, when he allowed two earned runs over five innings of a 5-3 win.Thompson is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in 10 appearances against the Pirates. This will be his first time facing them as a starter.