ASTROS (66-39) AT CARDINALS (56-47)
7:15 p.m. ET; FS-M, FS1, ATTSN-SW, MLB.TV
Another Paul Goldschmidt home run and another resilient performance laid the foundation for the Cardinals’ sixth consecutive victory Friday, an interleague series-opening triumph over the equally hot Houston Astros (-1.5) that might have set a tone for this weekend set at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis moved into sole possession of first place in the National League Central with its 5-3 win, paired with the Chicago Cubs (+1.5)’ 3-2 loss at Milwaukee, and a series victory over the Astros could help position the Cardinals to enter the penultimate month of the regular season atop the division.
When the Cardinals stumbled through May, losing 18 of 27 games while dropping into fourth place and five games off the pace, dramatic moments like the go-ahead, three-run homer Goldschmidt slugged in the eighth inning failed to materialize.
St. Louis’ midseason recovery could reshape the postseason picture in the National League.
“I’ve said it for a while now and we keep proving it: This is a team that’s going to compete regardless of circumstance, and that’s a great attribute for a team,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “It really is. It’s a championship-caliber trait. It’s a team that enjoys competition and is going to show up … hot, cold, down, up — we’re still going to get after. It’s a winning trait for a team, for sure.”
Right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon (1-0, 2.82 ERA) will start for the Cardinals on Saturday. It will mark his 10th appearance on the season and seventh start, including his fourth start in succession.
Ponce de Leon has produced a 4.05 ERA over his three previous outings, issuing six walks over 13 1/3 innings. He will face the Astros for the first time in his career while making his initial interleague start. In three previous interleague appearances, Ponce de Leon is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA with five walks and five strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.03 ERA) will work opposite Ponce de Leon for the Astros. Cole continues to lead the majors with 205 strikeouts, eclipsing 200 strikeouts in only his 22nd start.
The American League Pitcher of the Month for June after going 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA over six starts, Cole is 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA over four starts in July. He is 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA over 14 career starts against the Cardinals and 14-6 with a 2.85 ERA over 26 career interleague starts.
The Astros could take something positive from the loss given the return of shortstop Carlos Correa, who missed 50 games with a broken rib sustained during a massage at his home in May.
Correa was in consideration for an All-Star Game selection, posting a .295/.360/.547 slash line with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs over 50 games prior to landing on the injured list. The Astros went 31-19 without Correa, who finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts while batting fifth.
“It feels great,” Correa said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for almost two months. It just feels great to be with the guys once again. We’ve created an atmosphere here as a family, and when you spend 50 games without playing with them, you start missing it a lot. It’s good to be healthy again, to be back with the squad.”
–Field Level Media