The St. Louis Cardinals' starting rotation continues to step up with the NL wild card very much in reach.
The surging Cardinals continue their quest for a postseason berth when they open a crucial six-game homestand Tuesday night against the New York Mets.
St. Louis (84-69) capped its recently completed seven-game trip by taking three of four from MLB-leading Philadelphia, prevailing 4-3 on Monday.
Kyle Lohse surrendered one unearned run in 7 1-3 innings to outduel Roy Halladay and the Cardinals moved to within 2 1/2 games of wild card-leading Atlanta. The Braves suffered their seventh loss in 10 games Monday, 6-5 at Florida.
While Atlanta continues to falter, St. Louis enters this three-game set winner of 10 of 12. Cardinals starters have gone 7-1 during that run with a 2.09 ERA - the lowest mark in the majors since Sept. 6.
"I thought Lohse was outstanding," manager Tony La Russa said. "This is what the pennant race is all about. This is what you try to sell in spring training. This is the fun of it. It's part of the fun of being in contention in September."
St. Louis, which has taken five of six home meetings with the Mets dating to 2009, sends Edwin Jackson (5-2, 3.32 ERA) to the mound in hopes of recording a season-best sixth straight win at Busch Stadium.
Jackson has arguably been St. Louis' most consistent starter since being acquired July 27, leading the rotation in ERA. He's also enjoying his most successful stretch of the season, yielding two earned runs or fewer in five consecutive outings.
Jackson improved to 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA over that span, surrendering two runs and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings of Wednesday's 3-2 victory at Pittsburgh.
"He doesn't get bothered when guys get on base," La Russa said. "He just comes back and makes tough pitches."
The right-hander, who has never faced the Mets, has worked his way out of trouble in six starts at Busch, during which he's compiled a 2.41 ERA despite opponents hitting .298 against him.
Jackson will try and slow down New York (73-80), which ended a six-game losing streak by taking two of three at Atlanta over the weekend, winning 7-5 on Sunday. Ruben Tejada went 2 for 4 with a season-best four RBIs and Lucas Duda homered for the seventh time in just over a month.
With no chance of making the playoffs, the Mets are enjoying playing the role of spoiler.
"We still show fight. We care. It just shows that we pull together and try to pull through the rough patches," Sunday's starter Dillon Gee said. "... We want to come in and play the best we can."
New York, which has won four of five on the road, sends Mike Pelfrey (7-12, 4.48) to the hill. Pelfrey has won just one of his last nine starts, yielding two unearned runs and six hits in seven innings of Wednesday's 2-0 defeat to Washington.
Pelfrey is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts against St. Louis, both of which took place in 2008.
The right-hander has held Albert Pujols hitless in five at-bats, but he can't be looking forward to facing Lance Berkman, who is 5 for 10 with two homers against him.
Berkman, who hit his 31st homer Monday, is 20 for 42 (.476) over his last 12 games.