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Preview: Padres at Cardinals

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in the major leagues as they begin the second half by hosting the struggling San Diego Padres for a three-game series beginning Friday. St. Louis leads the National League Central by one game over the Pittsburgh Pirates, with another bona fide contender in the Cincinnati Reds five back. "I'm real proud about how these guys play the game every day,'' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told MLB.com. "They're relentless.''

The key to St. Louis' continued success could be the bullpen, which features five rookies - led by set-up man Trevor Rosenthal (68 strikeouts in 45 innings). The Cardinals also have a Most Valuable Player contender in catcher Yadier Molina, arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball who also leads the NL in hitting at .341. San Diego was two games over .500 on June 17 and one game behind the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West, but finished the first half by losing 20 of 26 games.

TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, FSN San Diego, FSN Midwest (St. Louis)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Padres RH Jason Marquis (9-4, 3.77 ERA) vs. Cardinals RH Jake Westbrook (5-4, 2.88)

Marquis, who has issued a major league-high 65 walks, is winless in his last five starts after allowing two runs in 5 1/3 innings while receiving a no-decision in a 4-2 loss to San Francisco on July 11. The 34-year-old, who is 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 10 games (eight starts) against St. Louis, held the Cardinals to two runs (one earned) and three hits in six innings of a 4-2 victory May 20. Marquis handles Carlos Beltran, Matt Holiday and Yadier Molina well (.231 in a combined 65 at-bats).

Westbrook yielded three runs, seven hits and four walks in seven innings of a 3-0 loss to the Cubs at Chicago on July 11. The 35-year-old was 2-1 with a 1.07 ERA through his first five starts, but registered a 4.36 ERA in his last seven outings. Westbrook is 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in four games (three starts) against San Diego while having little trouble handling slugger Carlos Quentin (2-for-14).

WALK-OFFS

1. Twenty-four of St. Louis' remaining 69 games are against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. ... The Cardinals have 38 home contests remaining.

2. Padres 3B Chase Headley hit .184 with three home runs in 19 RBIs in his final 60 games before the All-Star break. He led the National League with 23 homers and 73 RBIs in the final half of 2012.

3. St. Louis has used a major league-high 11 rookie pitchers this season.

PREDICTION: Cardinals 3, Padres 2

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