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Preview: Phillies Open Four-Game Series Against Cardinals, Try To Get On Track

(Sports Network) - The Philadelphia Phillies have handled the St. Louis Cardinals pretty conveniently the past few years. That may change when the struggling Phils pay a visit to Busch Stadium Monday for the first of four consecutive matchups with the NL Central leaders.

Philadelphia, which opened the second half of the season by losing three of four games against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, won three of four matchups with the Cardinals back in early May and has taken 11 of the past 14 games between the two ballclubs.

The two-time defending National League champion Phillies are coming off a tough loss Sunday night in which staff ace Roy Halladay was battered for six runs -- five earned -- and seven hits, including a pair of two-run homers, in six innings of work. Halladay struck out three and did not walk a batter.

"They hit the home run for two runs, then we kind of let the game leave us early," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told the team's site. "They had that four-run figure there, then we could never get to the starter."

Ryan Howard, Greg Dobbs and Ben Francisco all homered, while Placido Polanco ended with two hits and an RBI for the Phillies, who fell 5 1/2 games behind Atlanta for the top spot in the National League East. Howard owns four home runs and eight RBI in the last four games and will be returning to his hometown for a lengthy set. The slugging first baseman is batting .367 with 14 homers and 44 RBI in 34 career games against the Cards.

Hoping to get some production from Howard and company tonight will be Kyle Kendrick, who is a perfect 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four career starts against St. Louis. The righty beat the Cardinals earlier this season on May 5, as he fired seven shutout innings in a 4-0 triumph. Kendrick is 3-1 with a 3.33 earned run average over his last 10 games overall, eight of which have been starts. He has posted consecutive no-decisions and it started with 6 2/3 frames of one-run ball in a 4-3 home win over Cincinnati.

He then hurled a scoreless inning of relief in a 12-6 road loss against the Chicago Cubs last Thursday. Kendrick is 5-3 in 19 games (17 starts) to go along with a 4.44 ERA and is 3-1 as the visitor this season.

St. Louis will be a tough customer after it just took back the top spot in the National League Central standings with a four-game sweep of the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend. In Sunday's 5-4 win in the series finale, Allen Craig and Matt Holliday both had RBI singles with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to lead the way.

"That was great," Holliday said. "Allen Craig came up with two huge hits."

Craig finished with two hits and three RBI and Randy Winn contributed a pair of hits and knocked in a run for the Cardinals, who have won five straight and sit a half-game ahead the surprising Cincinnati Reds in the division standings. Jeff Suppan started the game and tossed six innings of one-run ball in the no-decision. Closer Ryan Franklin picked up the win by throwing a scoreless ninth inning.

Blake Hawksworth gets the nod tonight for his sixth career start and is 3-5 with a 4.72 earned run average in 26 games (5 starts) this season. Hawksworth has won three of his last five decisions and defeated Houston the previous time out on July 11 in the Lone Star State.

The right-hander held the Astros to a pair of runs on seven hits over 5 1/3 frames. He hasn't fared too well at home this season as evidenced by his 1-3 mark and 4.50 ERA in 12 games (1 start) at Busch Stadium. Hawksworth is 0-1 in two relief appearances against Philadelphia this season and owns the same record with a 7.71 ERA in three career relief stints in this series.

Hawksworth will try to put an end to Philadelphia's four-game winning streak in the Gateway City.