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National League Preview from The Sports Network

Thursday, September 20th (All times eastern)

Houston Astros (48-101) at St. Louis Cardinals (79-70), 1:45 p.m.

Probable Starting Pitchers: Houston - Bud Norris (5-12, 4.93) St. Louis - Jaime Garcia (4-7, 4.24)

(Sports Network) - The St. Louis Cardinals can take another step toward a return to the National League playoffs Thursday when they host the Houston Astros to wrap up a three-game series at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals, who won the World Series after reaching the playoffs as a wild card last season, enter the finale with a two-game lead in the chase for the second of the NL's two wild card berths.

They lead the Los Angeles Dodgers by two games, the Milwaukee Brewers by 2 1/2 games and the Philadelphia Phillies by four games - while the Atlanta Braves are an additional 6 1/2 games ahead in the top wild card spot.

Los Angeles split a doubleheader with Washington on Wednesday.

Starting for the Cardinals is Jaime Garcia, who'll make his eighth career attempt at a first career defeat of the Astros.

The 26-year-old southpaw is 0-5 in the initial seven tries against Houston, including a 9-8 loss on June 5 in which he allowed six runs on five hits in just two innings of work.

Garcia was shelved with injury for more than two months after that loss and is 1-3 in six starts since his return, including a no-decision at Los Angeles in his last appearance on Sept. 15.

He is 2-2 in seven home starts in 2012.

Taking the mound for the Astros is righty Bud Norris, who gets another chance to end a skid that stretches back to May.

He was 5-1 on the season after an 8-4 defeat of the Chicago Cubs on May 21, but he's winless in 17 outings since - going 0-11 while the Astros have gone 1-16 in games he's pitched.

He allowed five runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings in his most recent start on Sept. 8 in Cincinnati, which ended in a 5-1 loss.

Norris allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings against the Cardinals on Aug. 22, dropping a 4-2 decision that lowered his career record against St. Louis to 7-4 in 13 starts.

On Wednesday, David Freese hit a two-run home run to help the Cardinals take a 5-0 win over the Astros.

Yadier Molina added a solo home run, while Matt Holliday and Allen Craig each drove in a run for the Cardinals, who have won three straight.

Lance Lynn (16-7) gave up just three hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings in the win.

"They've all worked hard out there all season long and it's paying off," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "This is an impressive group of guys we have here and I'm real proud of them."

Lucas Harrell (10-10) was tagged for three runs on five hits with a walk and seven strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings for the Astros, who are now at 101 losses on the season.

"I felt like overall the start was really good," Harrell said. "Just a couple situations where I shouldn't have given in, I gave in and gave up a couple of home runs."

St. Louis has won eight of 11 matchups with Houston this season, including the previous seven meetings between the NL Central foes. The Cardinals were 10-5 in this series a year ago.

09/20 10:28:35 ET