Cardinals continue playoff push in Houston

With a few more wins and some help from the Phillies, the St. Louis Cardinals can wrap up their eighth playoff appearance since the turn of the century.

The Cardinals must take care of their own business, however, starting with tonight's opener of a three-game series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. They are only one game behind Atlanta for the top spot in the NL Wild Card standings and hope the Phillies can wipe the Braves out at Turner Field in their three-game series.

St. Louis has won two straight and 14 of its last 18 games, and put the heat on Atlanta with Sunday's 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs in the finale of a three-game set at Busch Stadium. Rafael Furcal and Yadier Molina both homered and finished with two hits, while Edwin Jackson threw seven innings of two-run ball in the no-decision. Octavio Dotel got the final two outs in the eighth for the win and Jason Motte struck out two in the ninth for his ninth save to keep the Cards in contention.

"That's the fun of it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of scoreboard watching. "They just can't get distracted. We all were, that's part of the fun."

Jaime Garcia draws the start for La Russa's club tonight and he sports a 13-7 mark with a 3.45 earned run average in 31 starts. Garcia is 3-0 in his previous four starts and gave up four unearned runs over 7 2/3 innings in Wednesday's 6-5 win over the Mets.

Garcia, a left-hander, hasn't had much success against the Astros in his career, going 0-3 with a 5.91 ERA in four starts. Houston beat Garcia on July 28 in a 5-3 triumph at Busch Stadium and reached him for five runs -- four earned -- in six innings.

Houston is only three games away from closing out one of the worst seasons in team history and has dropped seven of its last 11 games. It recorded a split of a four-game series versus Colorado and suffered an embarrassing 19-3 loss to the Rockies on Sunday afternoon.

Lucas Harrell was dealt the loss and allowed five runs, three of which were earned, and seven hits in three innings. Aneury Rodriguez gave up four runs in two innings of relief and both Lance Pendleton and Xavier Cedeno were touched for five runs.

"Luke got himself in trouble in that second inning when he didn't get an out on that comebacker. I think it really wasn't a double-play ball, but he tried to make it a double-play ball and the ball got away and we didn't get an out," Astros manager Brad Mills said when he commented on the Harrell error in the second inning.

The Rockies had a 25-7 advantage in hits, while Chris Johnson finished with two hits and an RBI to highlight Houston's dreadful offense.

Wandy Rodriguez gets the start for the 'Stros Monday night and he is 11-11 with a 3.51 ERA in 29 starts this season. He lost his most recent outing on Wednesday in a 2-0 loss at Cincinnati, as he yielded a pair of runs in seven innings of work. The lefty had won four of his past six decisions.

Rodriguez has faced the Cardinals 19 times in his career (18 starts), going 6-11 with a 3.85 ERA in that stretch. He defeated the Cardinals the only time he faced them this season on July 28 in the Gateway City.

St. Louis has won eight of 12 matchups with Houston this season.