Cardinals go with Lohse in opener with Astros

Kyle Lohse goes after his fifth win of the season this evening when the St. Louis Cardinals open a three-game series with the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Lohse, who led the defending world champion Cardinals in wins last season, is off to another terrific start, winning his first four decisions, while pitching to a stingy 1.62 earned run average.

He won his second straight start on Saturday against Milwaukee, but had his worst outing of the season, as he allowed three runs and six hits and walked four batters.

Lohse has faced the Astros 16 times (15 starts) and is 8-7 with a 2.81 ERA.

St. Louis was denied a sweep in its series with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday, as it dropped a 6-3 decision at Busch Stadium. Allen Craig drove in two runs and David Freese added a run-scoring double for the Cardinals, who lost for just the second time in their last seven.

Jake Westbrook (3-2) was touched for nine hits and four runs over 6 1/3 frames in defeat.

"We're not thinking about winning a series, we're not thinking about sweeps, we're thinking about winning today's game," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "That's the way we're going to continue going about it."

While St. Louis was unable to get the brooms out, Houston did just that in its series with the New York Mets on Wednesday, as Chris Johnson hit two home runs and knocked in a career-high six runs to help the Astros to an 8-1 win.

"This is probably my best day in the major leagues so far. This is something I'll never forget," said Johnson.

Wandy Rodriguez (3-2) allowed one run on six hits and two walks while striking out five over seven innings for Houston, which took all three games of a series against New York for the first time since August 1-3, 2008.

Hoping to keep the momentum rolling for the Astros tonight will be righty Lucas Harrell, who has lost his last two starts. Harrell fell to 1-2 on the year on Saturday in Cincinnati, as he gave up six runs (five earned) and nine hits in six innings to raise his ERA to 4.71.

This will be Harrell's first-ever start against the Cardinals.

"When you open a series, you want to set the tone," said Harrell. "Hopefully I can go out there and get ahead of guys, get a lot of ground balls, use my fastball in and use it out, and get a lot of early contact and go deep into the game. Give our team a chance to win. We've been playing well."

St. Louis was 10-5 against the Astros last season.