Cardinals-Brewers Preview

In a season that's seen a number of unlikely names give the St. Louis Cardinals' offense a boost, Tommy Pham is the latest to provide one.

Pham looks to continue his recent tear at the plate as the Cardinals try to expand their lead in the NL Central by winning a fourth straight game Thursday night and sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers.

St. Louis (91-54) dropped eight of 10 as its lead in the division was briefly reduced to two games over second-place Pittsburgh. However, a pair of Pirates losses and two Cardinals wins have St. Louis' lead up to four with 17 to play.

Pham has been key to the recent turnaround, going 4 for 7 with three homers, six RBIs and three runs in his last two games. The 27-year-old rookie outfielder hit a pair of two-run shots and added a triple in Wednesday's 5-4 win at Milwaukee.

He's batting .308 in 24 games since being recalled from Triple-A Memphis after Randal Grichuk went on the disabled list last month. Pham had a .182 average in 13 games during his first stint with St. Louis this year.

"We're real happy we're able to put a young player in and watch him make the adjustments," manager Mike Matheny told MLB's official website. "He's been doing some work trying to figure out some holes and figure out the league. He has obvious power. He's just an exciting player."

Matheny hands the ball to John Lackey (11-9, 2.89 ERA) for the finale. He's completed at least six innings in 17 straight starts, going 7-5 with a 2.36 ERA.

He's finished at least seven in three of his last four after matching his season high of 10 strikeouts while yielding two runs in seven innings and not getting a decision in a 4-2 loss at Cincinnati on Friday.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 3.95 ERA in six career starts against the Brewers, going 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three this year.

The Cardinals have won 10 of the last 13 matchups with Milwaukee (62-83) and eight of the past 10 at Miller Park.

They have a good chance of continuing that success against Jimmy Nelson (11-12, 3.95) and sending the Brewers to a sixth straight defeat.

Nelson is 0-4 with an 8.72 ERA in five career games - four starts - against St. Louis. He gave up four runs with eight strikeouts in seven innings of a 5-4 home win Aug. 9.

That effort is part of the right-hander's recent strong stretch at home, where he's 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA over his last seven starts. He's lost three straight on the road behind a 9.45 ERA, including his two most recent outings.

"My (bullpen sessions) between starts are great. Delivery's great between starts," Nelson told MLB's official website. "All the work I put in is great. Just got to transfer it to the field."

Milwaukee is hoping to have Ryan Braun available after he sat out Wednesday with tightness in his lower back. His 25 homers and 84 RBIs lead the team, and he's batting .350 with three homers while plating 11 runs in his last 11 home games.

"I'm definitely hopeful that he plays (Thursday)," manager Craig Counsell said. "It was a little tight (Tuesday), worse (Wednesday)."

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