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Cards head to Atlanta

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St. Louis (16-16) at Atlanta (17-13)

First pitch: Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET Line: Atlanta -125, St. Louis +115, Total: 7

Two struggling divisional winners from 2013, the Cardinals and Braves, clash at Turner Field on Monday night when they open a three-game series.

St. Louis is certainly not playing baseball like it has been for the past decade and narrowly avoided a three-game sweep by the Cubs with a 5-4 win at Wrigley Field on Sunday night. That was the club's second victory in the past six games, and only fourth win in the past 11 contests. The Cardinals were tied with the Cubs going into the ninth on Sunday before C Yadier Molina (.336 BA) hit a two-run single. Matt Adams (.339 BA) has been doing his best to keep his team winning and went 5-for-9 in the series in Chicago. On the other hand, Atlanta is currently leading the NL East by 0.5 games, but is in danger of losing that lead soon, as it is scuffling through a six-game losing skid. In their weekend series against the Giants, the Braves scored just three total runs, to waste a strong showing by their pitching that allowed just nine runs in the three contests.

1B Freddie Freeman (.293 BA) and OF Justin Upton (.299 BA) are the only two players on the team hitting better than .260 while Justin and brother B.J. Upton have already combined to strike out 74 times in 215 at-bats (34.4%). Trying to get St. Louis back on track in this game will be RHP Shelby Miller (3-2, 3.15 ERA), while RHP Aaron Harang (3-2, 2.97 ERA) will look to halt Atlanta's six-game skid. The Cardinals would love to be playing these games at home since they are just 9-11 when playing on the road, while the Braves are 9-6 so far this year at home. The matchup between these clubs has been dominated by Atlanta over the past three seasons, as the team is 9-5 overall in that timeframe while going 5-2 at home. One thing going for St. Louis in Monday's matchup is its 27-19 record (.587) as an underdog of +100 to +150 since the start of last year. Meanwhile, the host Braves are 15-4 in home games against NL Central opponents in the same timeframe.

Shelby Miller burst on to the scene last season and has continued his success this year. Although he has a low 3.15 ERA, he is walking way too many batters (5.5 per nine innings) and has already allowed seven homers in just 34.1 innings on the mound. One thing going in his favor for the time being is that batters are hitting a low .237 BABIP while he is stranding 94.7% of runners on base; with both numbers most likely unsustainable. He earned a win in his last outing on Wednesday, going six innings against the Brewers, while allowing three runs on six hits (2 HR) and three walks while striking out just one. Miller has been stellar against Atlanta in two career starts, going 1-1 with a 2.13 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. When he faced the Braves last August, Miller went seven strong frames while giving up just one run on three hits and no walks while striking out six batters.

Both 1B Freddie Freeman (2-for-6) and OF Jason Heyward (1-for-2, 1 walk) have hit a solo homer off of Miller, while C Evan Gattis, 2B Dan Uggla and OF B.J. Upton have gone a combined 0-for-9 with six strikeouts against him. The relievers for St. Louis are 1-5 with a 3.70 ERA and stellar 1.09 WHIP this year, and have been successful in 8-of-10 save chances. Closer Trevor Rosenthal (5.02 ERA, 8 saves) has not blown a save yet while striking out 19 batters with eight walks in 14.1 innings.

Aaron Harang was one of the best stories to start the season, allowing just three runs in his first five starts of the year (31.2 IP), but it all came crumbling down in his last start on Wednesday. When facing the Marlins that day, he gave up nine runs on 10 hits (2 HR) and one walk, while striking out four batters over 4.2 frames. Just like Miller, Harang has benefited from a low BABIP (.247), which is way below his career mark of .303. He’s had plenty of experience facing the Cardinals, starting against them 25 times and compiling a record of 7-13 (9-16 team record) with a 4.43 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Neither Harang or his team has earned a win in this series since May of 2009, as he has a no-decision in each of his past two starts, combining to go 14.1 innings while allowing four runs on 10 hits and five walks with an impressive 15 strikeouts.

Two of the Cardinals’ offseason acquisitions, OF Peter Bourjos (4-for-10, 1 double, 1 triple, 1 HR, 3 RBI) and SS Jhonny Peralta (8-for-25, 2 doubles, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 7 K’s), have had success against the veteran righty, while OF Matt Holliday is just 2-for-23 (.087) with 7 K’s versus Harang. The Braves bullpen has done well this year with a 6-3 record, 3.26 ERA and 1.31 WHIP while going 10-for-13 (77%) in save opportunities. Closer Craig Kimbrel (2.38 ERA, 8 saves) has gone 8-for-9 in his save chances and has struck out an incredible 24 batters in just 11.1 innings on the mound (19.1 K/9 rate).

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