|Cardinals, Brewers play twin bill in tight NL playoff picture|
The National League playoff race will intensify when the St. Louis Cardinals face the Milwaukee Brewers in a doubleheader Friday in St. Louis.
The Cardinals (28-26) are in second place in the NL Central, 2 1/2 games behind the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers (27-29) are 4 1/2 games off the division pace and one game out of the NL's second wild-card slot.
The Brewers will serve as the home team in the first game, which is making up a game that was lost during the Cardinals' run of postponements during their COVID-19 hiatus.
The Cardinals opened this five-game series at Busch Stadium with a 4-2 victory on Thursday night. They will start right-hander Jack Flaherty (4-2, 4.84 ERA) and right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon (0-3, 5.74) in the doubleheader.
Flaherty's one start against the Brewers this season proved disastrous. He allowed nine runs on eight hits -- including two homers -- in just three innings of an 18-3 loss in Milwaukee on Sept. 15.
But in his last start, a 2-1 victory in Pittsburgh, Flaherty struck out 11 batters and allowed just one run on two hits in six innings.
"He got back to who he is," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said after that game. "He had all his repertoire working and was really back to being an elite, quality starter, and that's Jack Flaherty. He was him today."
Ponce de Leon struck out 18 batters in 11 innings over his last two starts as the Cardinals beat the Brewers 3-2 and then the Pirates 7-2. He helped win the latter game while demonstrating great command despite working on just three days' rest.
"When he dominates that strike zone, he dominates," Shildt said. "His stuff's good. He's got that pop on his heater, and his breaking ball is really good. He's in the zone, and when he does that, you see what you get. Very effective."
Ponce de Leon allowed two runs on four hits and a walk with nine strikeouts during that one appearance against Milwaukee this season.
The Brewers are expected to start right-hander Josh Lindblom (2-3, 4.81) in one of the games. Manager Craig Counsell might use multiple pitchers, including left-hander Brent Suter (2-0, 3.58) to get through the other game.
Lindblom won his last start 5-3 against the Kansas City Royals, allowing one run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings. In his only appearance against the Cardinals this season, he threw five scoreless innings in a 2-1 victory in the first game of a doubleheader on Sept. 14.
He remained with the Brewers while his wife, Aurielle, underwent a medical procedure. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, he could not be in the hospital with her.
"It was a hard week, but my focus was good," Lindblom said. "The one thing that I'll say is that there's people that are going through difficult times. There's people that are struggling every single day. And to go out there and to play for 3 1/2 hours, that's a mental break for me from everything else that's going on. I'm thankful for my teammates and coaches and the organization for their support."
The Cardinals added another live arm for this series with Johan Oviedo, who replaced pitcher Carlos Martinez (oblique strain) on the injured list.
The Brewers shuffled their pitching deck as well, placing key reliever Freddy Peralta on the paternity list and recalling Eric Lauer from their alternate training site. Starting pitcher Corbin Burnes left Thursday night's loss with a sore back.
--Field Level Media