ST. LOUIS -- Their National League wild-card hopes growing slimmer by the day, the St. Louis Cardinals turn to their least experienced starter to help keep them alive Thursday night.
Alex Reyes gets the call as St. Louis (82-76) tries to salvage a split of its four-game series with the Cincinnati Reds in Busch Stadium.
The 22-year old right-hander, who will make his fifth major league start, is coming off his third win against the Chicago Cubs in a six-week span. Reyes (4-1, 1.58 ERA) lasted five innings Saturday in a 10-4 victory, allowing three runs on six hits with three walks and six strikeouts in a 115-pitch outing.
Reyes has faced Cincinnati (67-91) twice since being recalled from Triple-A Memphis on Aug. 9, once as a reliever in his big league debut and again as a starter Sept. 2 in Cincinnati. On the latter night, he gave up two runs over six innings in a no-decision.
The Cardinals will need Reyes to come through again if they are to mount any kind of run at a sixth consecutive postseason berth. They will start play Thursday night 2 1/2 games behind the idle New York Mets (85-74) for the first wild card and one game behind the San Francisco Giants (83-75) for the second wild card.
A 2-1 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday night was perhaps St. Louis' most frustrating of the year for a couple of reasons. Not only was it one the Cardinals couldn't afford, but it was also a game they could have won, except they stranded the tying run at third in three of the final four innings.
"I would say missed opportunities hurt tonight," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That's a good way of looking at it."
In crunch time, the Cardinals aren't exactly drawing a team playing out the string. The Reds have beaten them four of six meetings in September, holding them to two runs or fewer in all four wins.
Cincinnati's Thursday starter, right-hander Dan Straily (14-8, 3.74 ERA), is certainly capable of piecing together a shutdown outing. Straily, who is coming off a 6-1 win Saturday night in Milwaukee, owns a win in two starts this year against St. Louis.
Making the Reds' victory Wednesday night more impressive was that Cincinnati did it with second baseman Brandon Phillips (left hand) and center fielder Scott Schebler (hamstring) out of the lineup.
"It was a makeshift lineup tonight," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We're putting guys in their place to get opportunities, and they're taking advantage. We're hoping the second half of the season can springboard us to a better 2017."
While Cincinnati heads home after Thursday night to close the season against the playoff-bound Cubs, the Cardinals host the Pittsburgh Pirates, needing the same things they needed since they woke up Tuesday: wins and help.
"It's a tough one to swallow," St. Louis second baseman Greg Garcia said of the Wednesday defeat. He had a chance to drive in the tying run in the ninth but flied out to shallow left for the second out. "You got to get it done, especially in crunch time. That's where we are right now."