Missouri's two teams continue to head in opposite directions, with the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals looking to complete a four-game sweep of the sinking Kansas City Royals on Thursday night.
The Cardinals rallied for a 5-3 victory over the Royals (21-29) on Wednesday night, scoring four times in the eighth inning for their seventh win in eight games and 21st in 27. They have recorded at least 10 hits in 17 of those 27 contests and are batting .292 in May, tops in the major leagues.
They've been sparked by the hot play of catcher Yadier Molina, who had three hits Wednesday to give him a .650 average in his last six games, and first baseman Allen Craig, who is 7 for his last 12.
Right fielder Carlos Beltran has bounced back from an 0-for-9 stretch, going 3 for 8 with two home runs in the past two games for St. Louis (35-17).
Now the Cardinals will send highly touted prospect Michael Wacha to the mound for his major league debut in this contest.
"The key, from my perspective, is that we just have to manage expectations a little bit," general manager John Mozeliak told the team's official website. "He's a year removed from college and being thrust into a very competitive division with a lot of expectations being put on him, I don't know how fair that's going to be. I just think people need to be patient."
The right-hander out of Texas A&M garnered plenty of attention during spring training, surrendering one unearned run over 11 2-3 innings while striking out 15. He stayed on the fast track at Triple-A Memphis, posting a 4-0 record and 2.05 ERA.
"It's well-deserved," Mozeliak said of Wacha's promotion. "He was really good this spring and he hasn't disappointed at Triple-A. We're just going to take it day by day. He's a talented young man and he may be here for awhile."
Wacha will face a slumping Kansas City lineup that has mustered 16 runs during an eight-game losing streak. Designated hitter Billy Butler hasn't hit a home run since May 14 and is 5 for 25 with one extra-base hit during the slide.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas hasn't homered since May 10 and is batting .154 in his past eight contests.
Hoping to spark the offense, Kansas City appointed Hall of Famer George Brett its hitting coach Tuesday. The former Royals third baseman has helped the team in spring training for years but has turned down full-time job offers. Brett replaces Jack Maloof and Andre David, who were reassigned to the minors.
Also hoping to break a slump for Kansas City is Jeremy Guthrie (5-3, 3.92), who has lost his last three starts with a 7.91 ERA after posting a 2.28 mark in his first seven. The right-hander has allowed eight home runs in his last three outings after giving up seven in his first seven games.
Guthrie appeared to be well on his way to getting back on track Saturday, holding the Los Angeles Angels without a hit through five innings, but he allowed four runs in the eighth and gave up seven in 7 1-3 innings overall in a 7-0 loss.
"I executed better today,' Guthrie said. "It came unraveled in the eighth. We couldn't seem to make a play and things didn't work out for us.'
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