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Marlins-Cardinals Preview

Marlins-Cardinals Preview
The Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals were surprise contenders at the All-Star break. Mediocre play in the second half, however, has both clubs in danger of falling out of the postseason chase.

The Marlins look to win consecutive games for the first time in more than a month as they open a three-game road series against the struggling Cardinals on Friday night.

Florida (71-69) got off to a strong start despite trading last season's opening day starter and top run producer over the winter. Even without Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, the Marlins were in first place in the NL East as late as May 31, and were 1 1/2 games out of the division lead at the All-Star break.

The Marlins have failed to maintain that pace, going 21-24 since and 13-18 since their last back-to-back victories July 30 and 31.

St. Louis (75-65) has suffered a similar fall after entering the break 10 games over .500 and in second place in the NL Central. The Cardinals are 22-22 since the break and just completed a 1-5 road trip against Houston and Arizona that prevented them from gaining ground on wild card-leading Milwaukee.

"It's been a tough road trip for us," said reliever Chris Perez, who suffered a 4-3 loss to Arizona on Wednesday after giving up two runs in the ninth. "We had a chance to maybe salvage a little bit with a win today and pick up a game on Milwaukee, but it just didn't happen for us."

Florida managed to salvage a series win by defeating Atlanta 5-3 on Wednesday. All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and two runs, and is 6-for-20 (.300) with nine walks and a .517 on-base percentage in his last six games.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez is confident his club can regain the form that made the Marlins so successful earlier in the season.

"We've seen that all year with these guys," Gonzalez told the team's official Web site. "For all the tough losses we've had in August, they've been able to come back and put it behind them. We just need to keep going and keep winning ballgames."

The Marlins have to like their chances with Ricky Nolasco (13-7, 3.65 ERA) taking the mound Friday. They're 15-5 in the right-hander's last 20 starts, with Nolasco going 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA in those games.

He allowed three runs while striking out eight in six innings of Florida's 4-3 victory over New York on Saturday.

"Any time you get a pitcher that gets on that kind of a roll, there is a tremendous amount of confidence that you build from that," left-hander Scott Olsen said.

"It feeds to everybody. It just makes him better. It makes all the guys behind him better. It gives an extra step to everybody's jump. What he's done over the course of this 2 1/2, three-month period is unbelievable."

Nolasco, though, is 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA in three career games against St. Louis, which will oppose him with Braden Looper (12-11, 4.27).

The right-hander is coming off a very rough outing, having allowed a career-high eight earned runs in 4 1-3 innings of an 8-5 loss to Houston on Saturday. Looper, however, is 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA in three starts against Florida, including a 6-4 win Aug. 13. The Cardinals took three of four in that series.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: September 4, 2008

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