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STL@PIT: Lynn solid through 1 1/3 innings of relief

As the Cardinals and Dodgers open a four-game series Thursday, the National League's race for the second Wild Card comes into focus. The clubs are the leading contenders to face the Braves in a one-game Wild Card playoff next month, with the winner advancing to the Division Series.

The Redbirds will send a scuffling starter to the hill in the opener to the critical series, while the Dodgers will turn to a pitcher they acquired to pitch in big games like this. With both teams dropping their respective games on Wednesday, the Cardinals enter the series with a one-game lead over the Dodgers for the second Wild Card spot.

Lance Lynn will temporarily rejoin the Cardinals' rotation, stepping in for an injured Jake Westbrook. After a stellar start, his first full Major League season went south with a tough August that cost him his spot in the rotation. Lynn will get a chance to not only redeem himself as a starter but also to establish some needed momentum for the Cardinals.

"When you're asked to go do something else, you go do your job. You can't think about anything else," Lynn said earlier in September after moving to the bullpen. "I'm trying to go out there and get people out no matter when or where it is. Pitching is pitching, no matter what the spot or role is."

Opposing Lynn will be the Dodgers' Josh Beckett, who has regained some of his past form since joining the Dodgers in late August after a blockbuster deal with Boston. Even after the Giants scrapped four runs off Beckett with a combination of broken-bat and infield singles, the 32-year-old veteran still has a 3.86 ERA in three starts since joining the Dodgers, an improvement from his 5.23 ERA in 21 starts for Boston.

And while Beckett may have more than a decade's worth of experience on his opponent, Lynn isn't exactly a first-timer to high-stakes games.

Lynn pitched 10 games during the Cardinals' run to the World Series win last year, including appearing in a relief role in Game 6 of the World Series.

"Lance has been a pitcher that's pitched in as many high-leverage situations as anyone," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We know that's not going to affect him, and we believe in his stuff."

Despite picking up several big acquisitions in July and August, the Dodgers have found themselves focusing more on nabbing a Wild Card spot than the NL West as they have fallen seven games behind the Giants, putting more emphasis on the set with the Cardinals.

"Getting [to the postseason] is what the goal is, and if we don't win the division, we need to find a way," Shane Victorino said.

Dodgers: Elbert, Lilly progressing, but returns uncertain
With the end of the regular season rapidly approaching, the Dodgers are keeping an eye on the recovery of sidelined players, namely reliever Scott Elbert and starter Ted Lilly.

Elbert has been out since Aug. 26 with elbow inflammation and threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, while Lilly, sidelined since May 24 with shoulder inflammation, threw a simulated game.

"Not quite sure where that takes us," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Moving forward, it's getting to the end of the month."

Cardinals: Slumping Beltran gets a break
Carlos Beltran did not appear on Wednesday but is expected to be back on Thursday after what Matheny described as a mental and physical break for the 35-year-old.

Beltran has batted .209 since June 25 as he battles nagging injuries in his left knee and left hand.

"He claims physically he feels pretty good -- that's all relative to this time of the year," Matheny said. "There were a couple periods of time where he wasn't feeling as good -- right in the middle of what he's got going on right now -- I don't think he'd every deny that was an impact."

Worth noting
Beckett hasn't faced the Cardinals since 2005, when he was a member of the Marlins, and he is 2-2 with a 5.11 ERA in six career starts against St. Louis.

• The Dodgers enter the series with a 4-3 advantage in seven games between the two clubs this season. Comments