The St. Louis Cardinals went through a rough stretch against fellow postseason contenders that left them four games back in the NL Central.
They're hoping the next few days go much smoother as they begin a three-game series against the struggling Chicago Cubs on Friday night at Busch Stadium.In a 15-game stretch against NL East-leading Atlanta, Central-leading Pittsburgh, Cincinnati -- currently holder of the NL's second wild-card spot behind St. Louis -- and the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cardinals (66-48) went 4-11 and lost their division lead.They fell 5-1 to the Dodgers on Thursday, losing three of four in the series. David Freese had three hits, while Matt Holliday scored the only run.Before another crucial series with the Pirates that begins Tuesday, St. Louis will look to take advantage of a Chicago team that has dropped nine of 11 after falling 12-1 at Philadelphia on Thursday.Nate Schierholtz, 6 for 13 over his last three games, homered for the Cubs (50-64)."Not what the doctor was ordering today," manager Dale Sveum said.Catcher Dioner Navarro didn't play and is listed as day to day with a sore ankle after colliding with Chase Utley in Wednesday's contest."We'll see what happens in a couple of days. I don't know, it's just a contusion, whatever. There's some inflammation," Navarro said. "I thought it was going to be worse than it was. I tape my ankles before every game so I guess the tape worked."The Cubs have scored two runs or fewer in four of their last six, and they might be difficult to come by again Friday as Lance Lynn takes the mound for St. Louis.Lynn (13-5, 3.78 ERA) has gone 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA over his last three starts after giving up two runs and striking out a season-high 11 in eight innings of a 15-2 win over Cincinnati on Sunday.He went 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA over his previous five outings."I had pretty good command of all four pitches," Lynn said after his longest outing of the season. "When you have that, it makes it a lot easier to pitch. I was able to use most of them to both sides of the plate."The right-hander didn't have his best the last time he faced Chicago, though, giving up six runs and a career-worst 12 hits in 4 1/3 innings of a 6-4 defeat July 13. He allowed three runs over 13 innings in his previous two outings versus the Cubs this season, and he's 5-2 with a 3.67 ERA in seven career starts against them.Chicago will counter with Chris Rusin, who looks to bounce back from a tough outing.Rusin (1-1, 3.98) gave up four runs in five innings of a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers in his most recent outing Aug. 1, but he's been mostly solid in four starts after going 2/3 with a 6.37 ERA over seven starts in his late-season call-up in 2012."I am more confident in my stuff," Rusin told the team's official website. "Last year, you don't know until you get here if your stuff works or not. But after last year and a little bit this year, I know my stuff works if I throw it where I need to throw it and just cut down on the mistakes."The left-hander will be making his first career start against St. Louis, which has won seven of the last eight home meetings with the Cubs.