(Sports Network) - The St. Louis Cardinals head to Houston Tuesday for the start of a three-game set versus the Astros searching for a fifth consecutive winning series.
St. Louis can count just four losses among its last 14 games after a rough start to the year and is coming off Sunday's 3-0 win over division-rival Cincinnati. Yadier Molina belted a three-run homer to back a strong start by Jake Westbrook, leading the Cardinals to victory in the rubber match of the weekend set.
Westbrook (2-2) yielded just three hits and three walks in six innings, striking out four to help St. Louis win for the fourth time in five games overall. The bullpen made the effort stand up as Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and Mitchell Boggs set down nine of the final 10 batters to preserve the Cardinals' third shutout of the season. Boggs worked around a Joey Votto double in the ninth to record his third save.
Molina's blast off Reds' starter Edinson Volquez in the sixth inning was one of seven St. Louis hits. Molina and Lance Berkman had two apiece.
"Every time you hit a home run, what do you want?" Molina asked rhetorically. "You want to be mad? Or sad? No. You've got to enjoy it, man. Especially me. I don't hit a bunch of home runs. Every time I get an opportunity to enjoy it, that's the way you have to play this game. Fun."
Looking to keep the Cards' positive momentum going this evening will be 24- year-old southpaw Jaime Garcia. Garcia has won three of his four starts to this point in 2011, last defeating the Nationals on Wednesday with five innings of four-hit ball. He allowed three runs, but just one was earned. It was the second consecutive five-frame outing for Garcia, whose only trouble so far has been high pitch counts in the last two starts -- reaching 101 and 91 respectively.
Garcia has faced the Astros just once in his career, a forgettable 18-4 shellacking on August 3 last season. The young lefty lasted five innings in that one, charged with 10 hits and eight runs -- four of those earned.
As for Houston, it dropped the finale of a three-game series with the Brewers Sunday, 4-1, for its third loss in four games. The Astros' bats were bested by the likes of starter Randy Wolf, who twirled eight effective innings in limiting the visitors to just four hits with no walks and four strikeouts to claim the win in the series' rubber match.
Wolf faced the minimum from the fourth through seventh innings to keep Houston off the board, though J.R. Towles got a hold of one in the eighth and sent it over the wall in left-center for a 4-1 game. John Axford worked around a one- out single in the ninth to record his fourth save of the season.
Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez (1-3) surrendered four runs on 10 hits and three walks while fanning nine. The lefty lasted seven innings and had two of Houston's five hits.
Bud Norris takes to the bump opposite Garcia at Minute Maid Park tonight. Norris will also be making his fifth start of the season but hasn't experienced the same results as this evening's counterpart. The 26-year-old right-hander has settled somewhat after a rough beginning to 2011 and worked six innings in a no-decision 4-3 win versus the Mets last Wednesday. He was touched for 10 hits but battled to give up only three runs with six strikeouts against a single walk. That followed a more impressive performance April 14 against San Diego where Norris fired six sharp two-hit frames in a 1-0 final to net his lone victory of 2011. He ended with seven strikeouts and three walks.
Norris went up against the Cardinals four times during the 2010 campaign, including opposite Garcia in the August 3, 18-4, Houston win. He was charged with all four St. Louis runs that day on seven hits over six innings. All told, Norris was 3-1 with a 3.38 earned run average versus the Cardinals last season. He's faced the Redbirds just two more times in his still short career and sports a solid 5-1 record alongside a 2.27 ERA.
The Astros won 10 of the 15 matchups with St. Louis a year ago.