Cardinals take playoff aspirations to Miami

( - The St. Louis Cardinals look to keep pace in the National League Central on Monday night when they enter Marlins Park to take on the Miami Marlins in the opener of a three-game series.

St. Louis begins the day in second place in the NL Central standings, two games behind Milwaukee and a half-game up on third-place Pittsburgh. The Cardinals would hold one of the NL's two wild card spots if the season were to end today, although several clubs are bunched together in that race.

The Cards dropped two of three to the Orioles in Baltimore over the weekend but will look to build on Sunday's 8-3 victory.

Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta and Jon Jay combined to go 9-for-12 with five runs scored. Peter Bourjos provided some cushion with a three-run homer in the ninth inning.

Cardinals pitchers were tagged for 22 runs and nine homers in the first two games of the weekend series in Camden Yards. However, they rebounded to limit Baltimore to just one extra-base hit in the finale. Lance Lynn started Sunday's game and earned his 12th win of the season as he allowed three runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings, striking out six and walking one batter.

"All the conversation was, 'We've got to win this, we've got to figure out a way to get this one,'" manager Mike Matheny said of his team's approach to Sunday's game.

Monday's contest marks the start of a nine-game homestand for the Marlins, who fell short in their bid for a three-game sweep in Cincinnati over the weekend as they lost Sunday's series finale, 7-2.

Starter Brad Hand took the loss in that one as he served up a grand slam and a two-run homer to Cincinnati's Devin Mesoraco. All told, Hand was charged with seven runs in 4 2/3 innings of work. Miami's lineup did not fare so well against Reds starter Johnny Cueto, who fanned nine batters in eight innings.

The Marlins will turn to Tom Koehler for Monday's series opener. The right- hander has won just one of his last four starts despite posting a 2.92 ERA in that span. He gave up four first-inning runs at Pittsburgh in his last outing but recovered to complete six frames without allowing any further damage on the scoreboard.

"I didn't really put our team in a good position to win that ballgame," Koehler said of his performance. "All you can do is keep going out there and try to execute the game plan. You try to clear your mind and almost pretend it didn't happen. While it's nice to still go six innings in a game like that, it's unfortunate you put your team behind the eight-ball as soon as the game starts."

For St. Louis, Shelby Miller looks to continue his recent resurgence after going 0-3 with a 7.30 ERA over a five-start stretch and getting sent to the bullpen for a couple of weeks to get straightened out.

Over his last three starts since rejoining the rotation, Miller has given up five runs in 18 2/3 innings and has not allowed more than four hits in any start. He gave up one run on four hits over seven innings of work against Boston on Wednesday.

"He does look good now, without question," Matheny said. "Before, I think, we were seeing some mechanics fall apart. He's in a good spot now, and hopefully can continue to build off of it."

The Cardinals have lost three of their last four in Miami after winning seven straight there.