Despite their 4-3 win over the Padres in the opener of a four-game series at Busch Stadium on Thursday night, the Cardinals have won only four of their last nine games, yet they find themselves just two games behind the Brewers in the National League Central and atop the race for the second NL Wild Card spot.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny knows that his club needs to start playing better baseball more consistently if it wants to return to the postseason for a fourth consecutive year.
"It's nice that we have been able to stay where we are [in the division], but we're not content or complacent with where we are either," Matheny said. "Another team could take off on that [long run], and if we don't show consistency, there could be some gaps that could be hard to overcome."
The defending NL champs have a tall order on Friday, as they face a right-hander who stymied them when the two clubs met for a three-game set in San Diego in late July.
All-Star Tyson Ross held the Cardinals to one run on four hits over six innings on July 29; the following night, right-hander Jesse Hahn also yielded only one run over seven strong frames to beat St. Louis.
"These guys threw well against us," Matheny said. "I think we've talked a lot about understanding that and giving them their due credit, but I'd put our offense against anybody's staff when we're going about it the right way."
The Padres hope to win their sixth straight game in which Ross has started. In his most recent outing, on Sunday at Pittsburgh, he gave up two runs on six hits while walking two and striking out three.
"He battled without his best stuff," Padres manager Bud Black said. "They stressed him early on. He threw 30 pitches in the first inning, but he hung in there. He made some key pitches along the way."
The Cardinals will give the ball to right-hander Lance Lynn, who was on the short end of a 3-1 decision on July 29 when Ross outdueled him. Lynn allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits over six innings.
In his previous start, on Sunday at Baltimore, Lynn allowed three runs for the first time since June 28, a span of six starts in which he allowed two runs or fewer. He earned the win over the Orioles despite lasting only 5 2/3 innings, escaping trouble via the strikeout along the way.
"It was pretty simple: I was going to throw the ball by anybody who got in the box," Lynn said of his approach. "That's it."
Padres: Solarte hoping to return to lineup soon
Rookie infielder/outfielder Yangervis Solarte left Wednesday's series finale against the Rockies in the seventh inning because of a mild strain in his left oblique but hopes to be back in action very soon.
Solarte told Black that he could play on Thursday against the Cardinals, but Black thought it wise to hold him out of the lineup to give him at least another day to rest.
"Our fingers are crossed that ... the strain is just mild," Black said. "The next day or two will be very significant to see the progress, and we're hoping that he's going to come out of this OK."
Since being acquired by San Diego in the trade that sent Chase Headley to the Yankees, Solarte has batted .282 with a triple, three home runs and 11 RBIs in 20 games.
Cardinals: Taveras given a day to reflect on mistakes
Rookie right fielder Oscar Taveras was not in the lineup on Thursday. Matheny, who would not say whether Taveras would be back on Friday, said he was giving Taveras a day that the 22-year-old could look at "as a day off, or he can view it as a day to get better."
Taveras didn't hustle around the bases on a two-out double that he may have been able to score on from first in Wednesday's game against Miami. He also didn't hustle out of the box on a ground ball in the same game, and that nearly resulted in him being thrown out at first as part of a double play.
"We're here to win every out, every plate. Every turn on the bases means a lot," Matheny said. "There are a group of guys around here who are going to go about it with everything they've got. We need everyone else to be doing the same."
Taveras has posted a .206/.247/.284 line in 141 Major League at-bats.
• Will Venable is 4-for-10 with a double and a homer in his career against Lynn.
• The Cardinals have won 21 of 28 meetings with the Padres all-time at Busch Stadium III.
• The Padres are 41-5 when scoring at least four runs in a game.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.