|Cardinals start crucial stretch at Pittsburgh|
The St. Louis Cardinals hope their playoff push will get a boost when they open a five-game road series against the slumping Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
St. Louis (22-23) split a doubleheader Wednesday against Milwaukee and has lost six of its past nine games.
The Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds are all within a game of each other in the chase for second place, and therefore a playoff spot, in the National League Central.
"You control your own destiny," St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said. "I wouldn't want it any other way. Guys wouldn't want it any other way. We play well, we take care of business, then we'll write our own ticket."
Pittsburgh didn't do St. Louis any favors this week, getting swept by the Reds in a four-game series in Cincinnati that ended Wednesday with a 1-0 loss.
"We've got to get out of here," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. "This didn't work out very well for us. (We need to) get home and refresh and start new and try to finish the season strong."
The Pirates (14-34) have lost eight straight and aren't playing for a postseason spot, but in these last weeks of the season they are facing a lot of teams that are. That means something, said Shelton, Pittsburgh's first-year manager.
"We're playing (prospective) playoff teams, so it's a good evaluation on all (areas) of our game," Shelton said. "We're evaluating everybody."
In the series opener, St. Louis right-hander Dakota Hudson (3-2, 2.92 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh left-hander Steven Brault (0-3, 5.06).
Hudson has won three straight starts, including an impressive outing Saturday against Cincinnati when he carried a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings. Over six innings, he gave up one hit, one run, with four walks and four strikeouts.
The walks were the result of some minor control issues.
"One pitch at a time," Hudson said. "During those walks, I was throwing a lot of small-miss pitches. I was pretty competitive with my pitch selection, but it was just about bearing down, not giving in and trusting the defense behind me."
The defense behind him has trust in Hudson.
"That was just vintage Dakota Hudson, what he was able to do," third baseman Matt Carpenter said.
In 37 innings this year, Hudson has allowed just 23 hits.
Hudson is 2-1 with a 4.21 ERA in eight appearances, half of them starts, against the Pirates.
Brault, one of several Pittsburgh pitchers who has received a chance to move into the rotation because of injuries and is auditioning for next year's rotation, has had some hard-luck outings.
In his eight starts (among his nine outings), he has a 3.71 ERA but is 0-3 to show for it.
His last time out, Brault gave up three runs and five hits in four innings at Kansas City, an outing that was marred by needing 97 pitches to get 12 outs.
"Just in general, I have to get ahead of hitters more," Brault said. "That's just going to be something to take into my next outing."
Brault is 0-2 with a 5.97 ERA in 11 career appearances, including five starts, against St. Louis.
--Field Level Media