Cardinals-Giants preview

SAN FRANCISCO -- The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants have trusted veteran pitchers ready to go in the opener of a critical four-game series Thursday night.

In a rematch of a June 3 duel in St. Louis, won 5-1 by San Francisco, the Cardinals will send out Adam Wainwright to face Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto.

At stake is wild-card positioning in the National League playoff hunt, with the Giants (76-67) entering the series in the top spot, a half-game ahead of the New York Mets (77-69) and one game up on the Cardinals (76-69).

The game will be played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, which doesn't bother the Cardinals one bit. St. Louis has a far better record on the road (43-28) than at home (33-41), which is where the Cardinals beat the Giants two out of three in the June series.

The Cardinals are coming off 7-0 home loss to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday to complete a 3-4 homestand against the Milwaukee Brewers and Cubs.

Brandon Moss expects a different mind-set when the club enters enemy territory on Thursday night.

"We're pressing a little at home, trying to right the ship. Obviously it's not having gone well," he said after Wednesday's loss. "We're putting a little too much pressure on us. But when we go on the road, we play a little more loose, a little more relaxed, and hopefully that continues."

Wainwright had one of the wins on the homestand, a 5-1 victory Saturday over the Brewers. He has won both his September starts.

The veteran has gone 5-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 13 career outings (11 starts) against the Giants.

The Cardinals are used to seeing Cueto, a former NL Central rival with the Cincinnati Reds.

The 15-game winner has been just a six-game winner in his career against the Cardinals, going 6-8 with a 3.88 ERA in 21 career meetings.

Cueto can only hope for more offensive support than the Giants gave Madison Bumgarner in Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the San Diego Padres.

San Francisco got only four hits in the game, capping a three-game sweep by the Padres in which the Giants hit just 21-for-97 (.216).

"Now we're playing a team we're battling with," noted Giants manager Bruce Bochy, hoping the raised stakes inspire a better performance from his team. "We've got to recover. These guys have done a good job of that (in the past)."

The Giants are just 20-35 since the All-Star break, the worst record in the majors.

"The second half, this is something I've never seen before," Bumgarner observed after Wednesday's loss. "The only thing to do is come out (Thursday) and try to win. It's tough, but it's the only thing you can do."

While the Giants and Cardinals are locking horns, the Mets will be hosting the team with the worst record in the American League, the Minnesota Twins, in a three-game series that begins Friday.

The Los Angeles Dodgers (82-63), who have opened a five-game lead over the Giants in the NL West, open a four-game set against the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday night.