NL Central-leading Cards begin second half against Padres

The race in the National League Central is lined up for a three-team pursuit and the current leaders, the St. Louis Cardinals, are in the driver's seat for now.

Holding a one-game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and a five-game advantage on the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis will open the second half of the season at home, starting with Friday's opener of a three-game series versus the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals have won five straight at home and split a four-game set against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field before the All-Star break. They earned a split with Sunday's 10-6 win, as Yadier Molina ended 4-for-6 with a home run, three runs scored and four RBI. Molina delivered a clutch three-run homer during a four-run top of the ninth inning.

"We never give up," Molina said. "Whatever happens in the game or the inning before we're going to come after you."

Allen Craig recorded four hits as well and drove in a run in the decisive ninth inning, while Pete Kozma was 3-for-6 with two RBI.

St. Louis banged out 21 hits and got past the Cubs even though starting pitcher Adam Wainwright allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings for the no-decision. Edward Mujica, who was selected to replace Wainwright on the NL All-Star roster, tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief for the win, the Cards' seventh in the previous nine tries.

Wainwright was deemed ineligible for the All-Star Game by pitching Sunday.

Molina and Matt Carpenter both were 0-for-2 in the All-Star Game, Carlos Beltran finished 1-for-2 and Craig lined out in his only appearance at the plate. Mujica didn't get a chance to pitch in the Midsummer Classic.

Cardinals outfielder and former All-Star Matt Holliday is hoping to return to the lineup soon and hasn't played since last Thursday because of a right hamstring injury. Holliday has done some light running and took batting practice at Busch Stadium Thursday. He is hitting .268 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI this season.

The Cardinals are scheduled to host Philadelphia on this homestand and will send Jake Westbrook to the mound Friday versus the Padres. Westbrook has lost two of his last three starts and pitched well in a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Cubs last Thursday. He allowed three runs in seven innings in dropping to 5-4 through 12 starts with a 2.88 earned run average.

Westbrook hopes to keep his unbeaten record at home intact and owns a 3-0 mark in four tries with a microscopic 0.31 ERA. The veteran right-hander is 2-2 in four games (3 starts) lifetime against San Diego.

The Padres crawled their way near the top of the NL West, but have been irrelevant since. They were 38-36 at one point, then lost 18 of the next 22 games, including a 10-game slide from June 29-July 8.

San Diego is 8 1/2 games off the division lead and will start a 10-game road trip Friday against St. Louis, Milwaukee and NL West-leading Arizona. The club salvaged a four-game series versus San Francisco before the All-Star break, taking Sunday's finale by a 10-1 score.

Eric Stults threw six innings of one-run ball for the win and was helped offensively by four home runs. Chris Denorfia, Carlos Quentin, Nick Hundley and Will Venable all went deep for the Padres.

"We've got to combine those," Padres manager Bud Black said of both pitching and hitting. "The rest of the year, that's our challenge. It's a pretty simple formula. We haven't been doing that."

Padres shortstop and switch-hitter Everth Cabrera was the lone All-Star from the team and didn't get a chance to play in the game.

"Of course, I wanted to play, but this was my first All-Star Game, and it was a great experience," Cabrera said. "Being around all of these All-Stars and taking batting practice with them is awesome."

The Friars, losers in nine straight on the road, will send former Cardinal Jason Marquis to the mound Friday. Marquis, who played with St. Louis from 2004-06, is winless (0-2) in his last five starts since opening the season with a 9-2 record. He hasn't recorded a decision in the previous two outings and tossed 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball in a 4-2 loss versus the Giants last Thursday.

Marquis last tasted victory June 15 versus Arizona and he is 9-4 with a 3.77 earned run average in 19 starts. The right-hander hasn't won 10 or more games in a season since going 15-13 in 2009 with Colorado.

He defeated the Cardinals back on May 20 and is 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 10 games (8 starts) lifetime against them. The right-hander posted the lone win for San Diego in that series versus St. Louis and the Padres have won four of the last six meetings between the clubs.