Things get tougher for Cardinals, who are set to host Mets

St. Louis Cardinals' Paul Dejong is welcomed into the dugout after hitting a three-run home run in the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

By Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange – UPI

The MLB welcome wagon, aka the Cincinnati Reds, has left town.

Now the St. Louis Cardinals have to validate their recent streak of wins against MLB’s worst team by continuing to win games against better ones, like the New York Mets, who arrive Tuesday night at Busch Stadium to start a three-game series.

By beating Cincinnati seven straight times to highlight a stretch of eight wins in nine games, St. Louis (13-8) jumped into first place in the National League Central by 10 percentage points over Milwaukee. Nine of the Cardinals’ next 11 games are against teams sporting winning records.

That includes New York (14-6), which comes into town with a half-game edge over Philadelphia in the NL East. While the Mets have hit their first rough patch under first-year manager Mickey Callaway with four losses in six games, they have still been a pleasant surprise in the early going.

New York started its season by taking two of three from St. Louis, overpowering the Cardinals with Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom in the first two games before Luke Weaver worked a 5-1 win in the series finale.

Weaver (2-1, 4.22 ERA) experienced his first poor start of the year on Thursday, getting lit up for nine hits and six runs in four innings of an 8-5 loss at the Chicago Cubs. Otherwise, Weaver has been sharp, getting ahead with his fastball and finishing hitters with his plus changeup.

Weaver was scheduled to start Wednesday night, but St. Louis manager Mike Matheny opted to move him up a day and use him on normal rest when Adam Wainwright hit the 10-day disabled list Sunday with right elbow inflammation. The club won’t need a fifth starter again until Saturday night in Pittsburgh.

The Mets’ pitching plans were also affected by the events of Sunday, although weather was the protagonist in their case. A rainout in Atlanta led Callaway to move Zack Wheeler (1-1, 2.77) back to Tuesday night.

“Wheeler’s throwing the ball really well,” Callaway told “I think he deserves to stay in the rotation at this point. That’s fairly obvious to me. That’s why we made the decision we did.”

The decision of which Callaway spoke was to send former NL All-Star starter Matt Harvey to the bullpen, a choice that didn’t sit well with Harvey. But it’s not like Harvey (0-2, 6.00) has pitched well in four starts, and with Jason Vargas scheduled to come off the DL to start Saturday in San Diego, Harvey became the odd man out of a rotation that has pulled its weight so far.

Wheeler has lost both career starts against the Cardinals with a 4.76 ERA, including a 4-1 setback last year on July 8 when Paul DeJong touched him for a homer and a double.

The streaky DeJong, who has already fanned 31 times in 77 at-bats, is doing plenty of damage when he hits the ball. His seventh homer, a three-run shot on Sunday, turned a 3-2 game into a 6-2 breather in the seventh inning as St. Louis went on to hammer the hapless Reds 9-2.