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Duquette gives his thoughts on Wild Card race winners

The Cardinals didn't lose any ground in their chase for the National League Wild Card on Monday in Houston.

That's the good news.

The not-so-good news is that they didn't gain any, either.

The Cardinals still trail the Braves by one game in the NL Wild Card standings following a 5-4 loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park. The Braves also lost Monday, but with only two games left in the season, the Cardinals are running out of time.

Atlanta's magic number dropped to two with two games left. Any combination of two Braves wins and Cardinals losses will eliminate St. Louis from postseason contention. With its next win or St. Louis loss, Atlanta will guarantee no worse than a one-game playoff at Busch Stadium on Thursday.

"We've played every game like it's the last game for so long now, guys enjoy it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "It's a great way to go about it. Wish we could do it for 162, but you can't. There will be absolutely nothing different about tomorrow. We've been playing as hard as we can, as good as we can. It's been fun."

On Tuesday, the Cardinals will send Jake Westbrook to the mound. The Astros will counter with Henry Sosa.

"They're not going to just lay down because we're battling for a playoff spot, and they're not," said Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman, who spent almost 12 seasons with Houston. "They're going to play us tough."

Berkman is wise to expect a challenge from his former teammates. Sosa will be ready.

"I don't think about it being a big game for those guys," Sosa said. "I think about it's a big game for me because I want to win the game."

The right-hander won for the first time since Aug. 30 by holding the Rockies to three runs and scattering nine hits in 6 1/3 innings on Thursday in his ninth Major League start. He has delivered a quality start in five of his last six outings.

"I'm pretty excited," Sosa said. "I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm going to do the best I can to do my job."

Sosa is 3-3 with a 3.82 ERA in his last six starts.

Cardinals: Pujols' record in jeopardy
Albert Pujols went 2-for-5 Monday and needs two RBIs to extend his Major League record to 11 consecutive seasons of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs with a .300+ batting average.

• The Cardinals removed shortstop Rafael Furcal in the fifth inning of Monday night's game against the Astros due to what the club called "tightness" in his left hamstring. Nick Punto replaced him. Furcal is unlikely to return this season.

Astros: Altuve racking up the hits
It's been quite a season for Jose Altuve. He has 195 combined hits in 570 at-bats at the Major League and Minor League levels this season.

• Chris Johnson is hitting .444 in his last seven games with a home run and four RBIs.

Worth noting
• The Cardinals are 8-5 against the Astros this season after going 5-10 against Houston last season.

• The Astros are 12-7 at home since Aug. 16 and 17-15 at home since the All-Star break.

• Westbrook is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA against the Astros this season.

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