Playoff-hopeful Cards continue series with Astros

Left-hander Jaime Garcia can get the St. Louis Cardinals another step closer to the playoffs Tuesday when they meet the Houston Astros in the middle contest of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.

The Cardinals enter the game with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers in the race for the National League's second wild card spot.

St. Louis earned a wild card berth in 2011 en route to the World Series title.

Garcia dropped his initial five decisions against the Astros across seven starts, but broke through for a win in his most recent start against them on Sept. 20 in St. Louis - tossing six innings in a 5-4 triumph.

He allowed three runs on six hits in that stint and lowered his career earned run average against Houston to a still-bloated 7.55 in 39 1/3 innings.

Garcia has won two of three decisions after a 3-6 start to the season, with the Houston win coming 16 days after he went 7 1/3 innings and allowed a single earned run in a 5-1 defeat of the New York Mets.

In 10 road starts in 2012, he is 2-5 with a 5.67 ERA.

For Houston, right-hander Lucas Harrell tries again for his first win in more than a month.

The 27-year-old was 10-8 on the year after a 10-1 defeat of the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 14, but has since gone 0-2 in six starts, including a 5-0 loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 19.

He allowed three earned runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings against St. Louis, dropping his career record against the Cardinals to 2-2 in five appearances.

Harrell is 6-2 in 12 home starts in 2012.

On Monday, Yadier Molina and Peter Kozma both homered to back seven solid innings from Lance Lynn, as the Cardinals roughed up the Astros, 6-1.

Lynn (17-7) gave up one run on five hits in seven innings while striking out nine for the Cardinals.

"He did a good job. The first two innings were tough for him and for us, but he found his way and I'm really glad that he found it. We really needed this win," Molina said.

Scott Moore drove in the lone run for the Astros, who have lost five of seven.

Astros starter Fernando Abad (0-6) allowed one run in 1 2/3 innings before exiting with a right oblique injury. Fernando Rodriguez gave up three runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings of relief.

The Cardinals won nine of the first 12 games between the teams in 2012, including eight in a row since June 6. St. Louis won the season series in 2011, 10-5.