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STL@LAA: Miller fans six to notch ninth win of year

Given the Astros and Cardinals' postseason battles in the last decade and a strong divisional rivalry in the National League Central, this series always felt like a given.

Not anymore, as Wednesday's matchup between the two at Busch Stadium will mark their last meeting for at least three years until the Interleague schedule pairs them up again.

"It just seems like we never left the NL," said Houston catcher Jason Castro, the Astros' first representative on the American League All-Star team. "We play more AL teams on a regular basis, but when we come back, it just seems kind of normal again."

The teams have met three times already, with the Cardinals taking two of them, including a rout in Tuesday night's opener of the two-game set.

It is all part of a relatively tame stretch for St. Louis entering next week's All-Star break. With a sweep of the NL cellar-dwelling Marlins over the weekend, last-place Houston in town and the struggling Cubs waiting for a weekend series, it's certainly a favorable back end of the first half for the Cards.

"We talked about making a strong push here," said manager Mike Matheny. "It's not the finish line, but I think all of you appreciate how important the All-Star break is for these guys. A lot of them get to go home and breathe for a few days. That's a rare opportunity, and I know it's something that their bodies will appreciate, as well as their minds. It's something for us to push through."

For St. Louis starter Shelby Miller, rest won't be much of an issue. The organization switched his start from Tuesday to Wednesday, meaning he won't pitch again for a minimum of nine days. The club is closely watching Miller's innings count during his first year in a Major League rotation.

Miller didn't face the Astros during the team's two-game stay in Houston last month, but he's been a stalwart in one of baseball's best rotations with a 2.80 ERA, 107 strikeouts and a 9-6 record in 17 starts.

The right-hander won't be an easy task for the Astros, who snapped out of an offensive funk over the past week, but looked to regress Tuesday before they tacked on four runs in the ninth.

Hitting with runners on base, especially against the Cards, has been one of the biggest gripes for Houston manager Bo Porter.

"They take the outer third to the plate away," Porter said of St. Louis' approach. "It's an organizational philosophy. I spent five years with the Marlins, so we shared the Spring Training complex with them. The reason they hit so well with men in scoring positions is they take the outer third to the plate away.

"If you look at a lot of their hits with scoring position, it's up the middle or it's the other way. And they give in a little bit to their power to put the ball in play."

Hoping to make Houston's situational struggles moot is starter Jordan Lyles. He'll take the mound on the heels of a bounce-back outing against Tampa Bay last week, when he surrendered only two runs over 6 2/3 solid innings.

Lyles took a no-decision in that one, but he's compiled a 2.83 ERA in 10 starts since May 17, which ranks eighth among AL starters during that span.

Astros: Norris likely done before break
Porter won't announce his rotation plans for the remainder of the first half until later this week, but he did make it pretty clear who won't start Sunday.

Porter said Bud Norris' Tuesday outing in St. Louis will likely be his last before the break. Porter believes the right-hander is a candidate to be selected as an alternate for the AL All-Star squad, though Norris struggled in the opener against St. Louis.

Norris exited Tuesday after allowing seven runs in five innings.

"We feel like he's pitched well enough to be an All-Star," Porter said. "If it just so happened that he is selected as one of those reserves, we want him to be well-rested and be able to go in and pitch in the All-Star Game."

Cardinals: Molina set to get more rest
Matheny said he isn't looking to set any records concerning Yadier Molina's prolific playing time this season behind home plate.

A right knee issue gave Matheny an excuse to sit Molina over the weekend, but the All-Star catcher returned to the Cardinals' order on Tuesday. Molina caught seven innings, and went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored.

Molina started 79 of the team's first 85 games before resting last weekend.

"I think we just have to be smart," general manager John Mozeliak said. "He wants in the lineup, and that's great, but we have to make sure that we give him some rest from time to time." Comments