Cardinals hope to rebound versus Cubs

The St. Louis Cardinals have little to spare when it comes game series versus the NL Central-rival Chicago Cubs tonight from Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals squandered a chance to bolster their postseason position with Thursday's 8-6 loss to the New York Mets in the finale of a three-game set. They held a 6-2 lead in the top of the ninth inning and allowed six runs to cross, putting an end to their four-game winning streak. St. Louis had won seven of eight games and is two behind Atlanta in the NL Wild Card chase with six contests to go. The Braves were idle Thursday.

Albert Pujols and Allen Craig both homered in the loss, while starter Jake Westbrook did not record a decision with six innings of one-run ball. Jason Motte allowed three runs in the ninth and Mark Rzepczynski absorbed the loss for permitting the go-ahead run for the Cardinals, who are five games in back of Milwaukee for the NL Central lead.

"I didn't expect us to win the rest of the games on our schedule," said St. Louis slugger Lance Berkman. "We still had a good series, today notwithstanding. We still have an opportunity. We're still right there."

Berkman just agreed to a one-year extension with the club. Pujols has reached base safely in 38 straight games and outfielder Matt Holliday could return to the lineup soon after missing time due to inflammation in his right middle finger.

Chris Carpenter will lead St. Louis into battle with the Cubs and is 2-0 in his previous three starts. He last pitched in Sunday's 5-0 win at Philadelphia and tossed eight scoreless innings to improve to 10-9 with a 3.66 earned run average in 32 starts this season. The right-hander will make his third start against the Cubs in 2011, going 1-0 over the first two starts, and is 11-6 with a 3.12 ERA in 24 lifetime matchups.

The Cubs would probably enjoy nothing more than to make sure the Cardinals' chances of making the postseason are even more difficult with a successful series in the Gateway City. They have won four of their past six games and recently took two of three meetings from the Brewers at Wrigley Field, including Wednesday's victory in the series finale.

Matt Garza was brilliant on the hill and held Milwaukee to just one unearned run over nine innings of work. He also struck out 10 batters and issued one walk. Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro continued to swing a hot bat and went 2- for-3 with an RBI to reach 199 hits for the season. He is aiming to become the youngest player in franchise history to reach the 200-hit milestone, and also the first Cubs shortstop to do it. He would be only the fifth MLB player since 1940 to get 200 hits at 21 years old or younger.

Castro has reached base safely in 34 straight games, tying Woody English's 1929 record for Cubs shortstops. He is the first Cubs player to have a streak that long since Jerome Walton's 43-gamer in 1989.

"I can't wait until he gets to 200, because it'll be a special moment for all of us," Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena said.

In the midst of Castro's chase to history, Ryan Dempster takes the ball for Chicago this evening and is having a bit of trouble on the mound lately. Dempster has dropped two straight starts and is 0-5 in his previous seven outings. Dempster was beaten by Houston in Sunday's 3-2 defeat and yielded three runs over seven frames, falling to 10-13 in 32 starts this season with a 4.63 ERA.

Dempster, a righty, is 1-1 in two starts against the Cardinals this season and 8-8 with a 4.64 ERA through 46 career games (20 starts) in this series.

St. Louis has won eight of 12 meetings with Chicago this season, with a 5-1 mark at home.