On The Rebound

The St. Louis Cardinals are trying to avoid losing a series at home for the first time in six weeks. To do that, they'll need a much better effort from starter Mike Maroth.

Maroth will try to help the Cardinals rebound on Thursday when they conclude a four-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

St. Louis (68-68) has won 16 of its last 22 games at Busch Stadium entering the finale of a seven-game homestand. The Cardinals haven't dropped a series there since losing two of three games to the Chicago Cubs July 24-26.

They have lost two of the first three in this series, including an 8-2 defeat on Wednesday. St. Louis fell two games behind the NL Central-leading Cubs and 1 1/2 games behind second-place Milwaukee.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made St. Louis -150 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 10 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 79% of bets for this game have been placed on Cleveland -126 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Ronny Paulino and Jack Wilson - Nos. 7 and 8 in the Pittsburgh lineup - combined to go 5-for-8 with six RBIs on Wednesday. Paulino improved to 8-for-12 in the series with two doubles, a homer and five RBIs while Wilson is 9-for-12 with three doubles, a homer and six RBIs.

Adam LaRoche went 2-for-4 with a homer for the Pirates (61-78), whose 210 runs since Aug. 1 are the most in the NL.

"They're not getting themselves out, they're not missing balls over the middle of the plate," said Pirates manager Jim Tracy, whose team won for the second time in eight games. "That's how you become a good offensive club."

Maroth (0-4, 11.08 ERA) has the task of quieting those hot bats. The Cardinals acquired the left-hander from Detroit in June, but he has struggled with his new team, failing to record a win in eight games, including six starts.

He spent most of the last month on the 15-day disabled list with left elbow tendinitis and will be making his first appearance since Aug. 4.

"I'm excited," Maroth told the Cardinals' official Web site. "It's definitely an opportunity I want to capitalize on."

Maroth's last two appearances have come in relief, including 1 2-3 innings on Aug. 1 against the Pirates when he gave up seven runs and nine hits in a game St. Louis lost 15-1. He also made one start against Pittsburgh on June 30, 2002, losing 6-2 with Detroit.

The veteran southpaw has dropped his last four starts, allowing 24 earned runs and 36 hits through 19 innings.

Pittsburgh has called up Bryan Bullington from Triple-A Indianapolis to make his first major league start. The right-hander, who was the top overall pick in the 2002 draft, made one relief appearance in the majors on Sept. 18, 2005 against Cincinnati, allowing two runs over 1 1-3 innings.

He underwent season-ending right shoulder surgery last year, but made a comeback in Triple-A this season, going 11-9 with a 4.00 ERA in 26 starts. Bullington experienced some tightness in his right shoulder in late June, but said now he's feeling better than ever.

"When I took care of that and found what was causing the discomfort, I felt better than I have in the last four years during these last two months, from a health standpoint," Bullington told the Pirates' official Web site. "(Health issues) were huge coming into spring training. I wanted a shot at getting to Pittsburgh in September."

St. Louis won seven of the first nine meetings between these teams this season, but has lost four of the last five. Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel hit a two-run homer Wednesday, giving him seven in 22 games since returning to the majors on Aug. 9. The former pitcher is batting .338 (26-for-77) with 22 RBIs.

by: Michael Cash - thespread.com – Email Us

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