Sports

Cards look primed for playoff push

CINCINNATI — An out-of-character win had the St. Louis Cardinals feeling good about where they're headed.

Albert Pujols hit a pair of solo home runs Saturday night, and the Cardinals matched their season high with four homers in all during a 9-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds that extended their winning streak to four games.

The streak is one shy of the Cardinals' season high. St. Louis has won six of its last eight overall, staying right behind Milwaukee in the NL wild-card race by winning a lot of close games.

For once, the Cardinals didn't have to sweat one out.

”We haven't had a lot of games where we score 9-10-11 runs,“ said Ryan Ludwick, who had a two-run homer. ”It's a good feeling tonight the way it worked out. The offense looks good right now.“

Skip Schumaker started the surge with a three-run shot off struggling Aaron Harang (3-13), hit hard in both of his starts since he came off the disabled list. Pujols hit the first of his two homers off Harang, and Ludwick finished off the right-hander with his two-run shot.

Joel Pineiro (6-5) improved to 3-0 in August and remained unbeaten in his career against the Reds. Pinch-hitter Andy Phillips and Brandon Phillips hit solo homers off Pineiro, who went six innings and came away impressed by the way the Cardinals played overall.

”It's a good team chemistry we've got here,“ Pineiro said. ”Nobody backs down even if we're down early.“

The Cardinals have stayed in playoff contention by getting consistently good starts from an injury-depleted rotation and just enough from an offense that's been at its best on the road, batting .283.

”You've got to be relentless,“ Manager Tony La Russa said. ”For 4½ months we've been a tough club to play against. We've got to do it for six more weeks.“

Cincinnati has come unhinged in the season's second half, losing 17 of its last 21 games. The Reds have dropped their last eight at Great American Ball Park, their worst such slump since it opened in 2003. They haven't been this bad at home since 2001, when they dropped nine in a row at Cinergy Field.

For the second start in a row, Harang didn't give them much of a chance.

The right-hander was sidelined from July 13 to Aug. 9 with a sore right forearm. He returned last Sunday and gave up three homers and a career-high eight earned runs in only four innings of a 13-4 loss in Houston.

His next attempt had a nearly identical outcome.

”I'm concerned about his psyche,“ Manager Dusty Baker said. ”I've never seen him get hit like this.“

The 13 losses match Harang's career high from 2005, when he went 11-13 in his first season with Cincinnati. He's two behind Barry Zito for most losses in the NL.

”I don't know what's going on,“ Harang said. ”I have to sit down and figure it out. It's one thing after another. The fastball is not moving like I want.

”It's stressing me. It's no fun right now. I feel like I'm letting my team down.“

Reds reinstate Votto

The Reds reinstated first baseman Joey Votto off the bereavement list on Saturday, but plan to give him a couple days to work back into playing shape. Votto went on the bereavement list a week earlier. At his request, the reason for the absence was not revealed.

Infielder Adam Rosales was optioned back to Triple-A Louisville on Saturday.

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