Despite a brutal 20-game stretch last month, the Miami Marlins have a chance to finish the first half with a winning record.
If that's going to happen, they'll need to do something in St. Louis that no Marlins team has accomplished in 16 years.
The Marlins visit Busch Stadium for the only time this season for three games against the Cardinals beginning Friday night.
Since dropping 17 of 20 - they ended both that slump and an eight-game losing streak to St. Louis with a 5-3 victory June 27 - the Marlins (40-42) have gone 6-2 to build momentum heading into their final series before the All-Star break.
Despite the recent surge, Miami will need to sweep this three-game set to finish the first half above .500. The Marlins' last three-game sweep in St. Louis was Aug. 27-29, 1996, at the old Busch.
In another piece of history working against Miami, Friday's scheduled Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco (7-6, 4.62 ERA) is 0-4 with a 5.53 ERA in seven starts against the Cardinals - along with the Los Angeles Dodgers the only NL clubs he's never defeated. The right-hander did pitch well in the Marlins' 10-inning, 8-7 home loss to St. Louis on June 25, allowing one run in 6 2-3 innings.
Nolasco followed that effort up with another solid outing Sunday, throwing six innings of a 5-2 victory over Philadelphia.
"He's always been a better pitcher than people give him credit for,' Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Nolasco hasn't been at his best against Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday, who is 10 for 21 with two homers, a triple and two doubles off him.
Holliday has also hit safely in a team-best eight straight games, and he's batting .500 with four homers and 21 RBIs in his last 18 after driving in a pair of runs in Thursday's 6-2 victory over Colorado.
Now, he's headed to his sixth All-Star game - albeit at a teammate's expense. The Cardinals placed catcher Yadier Molina on the bereavement list Friday after the death of his wife's grandfather, and Holliday will serve as his replacement Tuesday in Kansas City.
St. Louis, which has won four of five, recalled catcher Bryan Anderson from Triple-A Memphis to fill Molina's roster spot this weekend.
"We feel if we stay with a good approach every day, we can score a lot of runs," said All-Star Carlos Beltran, who also drove in two runs for the Cardinals (44-39).
St. Louis, which is 4-3 entering the final series of a 10-game homestand, sends Jake Westbrook (7-6, 3.91) to the hill Friday. The veteran right-hander has won three straight decisions over four starts after going 0-4 in his previous six outings.
Westbrook gave up two runs in six innings against the Marlins on June 25 opposite Nolasco. However, this will be the first time he sees Carlos Lee in a Miami uniform.
Lee is 18 for 40 with two homers and four doubles off Westbrook.
The Marlins' new first baseman went 2 for 4 with a double in Thursday's 4-0 victory at Milwaukee after being acquired from Houston the previous day.
"(Lee is) as advertised, a professional hitter," Miami left fielder Logan Morrison said after going 6 for 14 with two homers and eight RBIs during the four-game series against the Brewers. "It doesn't take too long to see that."
The Marlins probably think they've already seen enough of Cardinals third baseman David Freese - the winner of fan voting for the final NL All-Star spot - who is 7 for 14 against them this season.
Beltran is 6 for 15 in four games versus Miami in 2012, and is 13 for 38 (.342) lifetime off Nolasco.
Marlins All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is expected to miss his fourth consecutive game Friday with knee soreness, but could return later this weekend.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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