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HOU@STL: Lynn shuts down Astros for 16th victory

The Cardinals enter this week in possession of the second National League Wild Card spot, but a handful of teams are right on their heels, hoping St. Louis falters down the stretch.

The Redbirds open up a three-game series at Houston on Monday. They'll send right-hander Lance Lynn to the mound opposite southpaw Fernando Abad. The first pitch at Minute Maid Park is set for 7:05 p.m. CT.

"Everyone knows what's at stake now," said Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay, whose club has won two straight and six of the past seven. "We want to get back to the playoffs. We got a taste of it last year, and we definitely think we have the team to do it. We just have to do it."

St. Louis has beaten up on the Astros this season, winning nine of 12 meetings. Since he took over in Houston on Aug. 19, interim manager Tony DeFrancesco is 0-6 against the Cardinals.

"They've beaten me six times already since I've been here," DeFrancesco said. "It's frustrating for me to see that we're one hit away from beating that team. I know they're a Wild Card contender. That's our goal. I want to hopefully knock them out and move on to the next series."

After winning a combined eight games in July and August, Houston has put together a 10-11 record in September. The Astros recently took two games out of three from Pittsburgh.

Cardinals: Lynn solid since return to rotation
An All-Star this season, Lynn brings a 16-7 record and 3.79 ERA into Monday's meeting with the Astros. In two starts since returning to the rotation, the righty has picked up two victories while holding opponents to one run over 12 1/3 innings.

In late August, Lynn was moved to the bullpen, from which he made six appearances. "It got me back in sync," he said. "I was a little out of sync and everything was snowballing on me. I went down there and worked on what I needed to work on to getting back to being successful. It has worked so far."

"I think he learned a lot," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "I think he learned a lot about his demeanor. He went out actively trying to figure out some things, too. He spent a lot of time with Chris Carpenter talking about the finer points of your demeanor, about your tempo. How you hold yourself on the mound. All of that seems like very small issues, but it has to do with your overall game.

"I think he got a little loose [with his mechanics] there right before he went to the 'pen. You're seeing quicker times. You're seeing repeated pitches. All that is due to the fact that he didn't go down to the bullpen and sulk. He figured out how to make himself better."

Astros: Abad to face Cards for fourth time
Abad began the season as a relief pitcher before making his first start on Aug. 25. The lefty has started five games since joining Houston's rotation, having been defeated in each one. To go along with an 0-5 record, Abad owns a 5.11 ERA.

In his last start, Abad lost to the Cardinals on the road. He gave up three runs while striking out six batters over five innings. Abad had never lasted more than 4 1/3 innings in any of his previous four big league starts.

"He was excellent," DeFrancesco said after Abad's most recent outing. "He was aggressive in the zone, good fastball, good breaking ball. That wasn't a problem."

Abad has faced St. Louis three times in 2012. He has surrendered four runs in seven innings.

Worth Noting
This series marks the last time that Houston and St. Louis will meet as division foes. The Astros, of course, are moving to the American League West next season. In 19 seasons as a member of the NL Central, Houston posted a 132-145 record against the Cardinals. Comments