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07/29/10 11:29 AM ET

Back home, Cards send Carpenter against Bucs

There are no easy games, but while battling for the top of the National League Central and heading home, it's safe to say the schedule is about to play to the Cardinals' favor.

The Cards open a three-game set with the Pirates at Busch Stadium on Friday night in what could be seen as a golden opportunity for St. Louis to pick up ground in the Central. Entering this series, the Redbirds are a half-game back of the first-place Reds.

Not only have they played the Pirates tough in the past, St. Louis has been a strong team at home, compiling a 34-16 record at Busch. They could use the boost after dropping a tough series to the Mets. But they aren't worried yet.

"I think we're a little short," Cards manager Tony La Russa said. "We've done a good job of surviving. It's tough to thrive when you're missing a couple of edges. It happens to everybody, so I'm not making excuses. We haven't gotten buried. We've survived. And that's a good sign."

The Pirates can't be easily discounted, though. Despite their slow start, the Bucs have been playing a much stronger brand of ball since the All-Star break and took two of three in Colorado this week.

After facing Ubaldo Jimenez on Thursday and set to take on Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in this weekend's series, the Pirates know they have to get up for their opponents' best. But this is a team that beat Roy Halladay earlier this season, and manager John Russell knows its just a matter of finding a way to get it done.

"Those guys are good for a reason," Russell said. "Their ERA is that way for a reason. You find ways. We found ways to score against San Diego. It's just trying to take advantage of any situation that you can. "

Pirates: Karsten seeks elusive 'W'
Jeff Karstens will continue his search for his first win since June 18. His elusive trek has seen him take losses in three quality starts, including his last two. In his last outings against the Padres, Karstens allowed two runs over six innings and struck out five, but ate a tough-luck loss. "I feel like I'm so close to getting over that hump," Karstens said. "There's a few things that haven't really gone my way, but it's just part of baseball. And what can I say? They gave me a 2-1 lead and I let it slip away."

Cardinals: Carp aims to continue dominance of Bucs
The Cards have one of their top guns in Carpenter going on Friday night, and the numbers couldn't be any more in his favor. The veteran right-hander is 11-1 with a 2.29 ERA over the past 10 years against the Pirates. But he's been even tougher lately, turning a 2-0 mark with a 1.96 ERA over his past three outings. He's pitched eight innings in two of the three and struck out 14 over that span. One thing Carpenter will be looking to improve on is getting the leadoff man, an area which plagued him his last time out against the Cubs.

Worth noting
Friday will be the Pirates' first game in St. Louis since May 7, 2009, a span of 449 days. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it's the longest gap between two teams at one site in the same division since divisional play began in 1969 (does not include strike-shortened season in 1981). ... Bucs outfielder Andrew McCutchen sat out Thursday's game with continuing soreness in his right shoulder. He will continue to be evaluated and receive treatment.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.