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SD@STL: Wainwright strikes out seven through eight

The Braves suddenly have pitching woes.

Tim Hudson fractured his right ankle Wednesday, rookie Alex Wood was knocked around by the Mets on Thursday and the Braves aren't looking like the team that ranks among the top four in the Majors with a 3.38 ERA this season.

Since the beginning of July, Atlanta has posted a 4.20 ERA, which ranks 22nd this month as of Thursday evening.

The impending return of Brandon Beachy could help, as could the continued dominance of Mike Minor, who has turned himself into an ace this season and will take the mound Friday as the Braves host the Cardinals for the opener of a three-game series.

Minor's last outing was an eight-inning gem against the White Sox in which he allowed just two earned runs while striking out eight, but he took a hard-luck 3-1 loss.

"It's a cruel game at times, our game," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Mikey probably pitched the best game of the year, and he got nothing. He got an 'L.' That's all he got, and that's a shame. That's the way our game is."

Minor will try to contain a Cardinals offense that ranks third in the Majors in scoring this season, though they've seen a power outage in July. In 17 games this month, the Cardinals have hit eight homers, third fewest in baseball.

But they don't need the long ball, having won 26 games this season without hitting a homer.

And with Adam Wainwright on the mound, too many runs shouldn't be needed.

The Cardinals' ace has a 2.44 ERA in 2013 and has allowed more than four runs just once all season. He's also lost to the Braves just once in seven tries, going 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA against them lifetime.

Friday marks the beginning of a crucial road trip for the Cardinals, who will play 11 games in 10 days, including eight against division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. With that, manager Mike Matheny won't hesitate to utilize his bench throughout the trip.

"We're going to use our guys, there's no question about that," Matheny said. "I think the guys are all kind of planning that it's going to be a rough stretch here. Everybody is going to have to chip in."

Braves: Beachy could join rotation Monday
It's not official, but the Braves are hoping to get Beachy back into the starting rotation Monday for a start against the Rockies.

After a long road back from Tommy John surgery, Beachy threw his best rehab start with Triple-A Gwinnett on Wednesday, getting up to 86 pitches.

The 26-year-old righty was off to a terrific start in 2012 before getting injured. He had a 2.00 ERA and opponents were hitting just .171 off him.

"We've got to wait to see how he wakes up this morning," Gonzalez said. "But I don't see any reason why he would wake up sore or any of that kind of stuff. He'll throw a bullpen [session] tomorrow or the next day, and he'd be a perfect fit to put in there in that Monday slot."

Cardinals: Three at the top
Entering Friday, Yadier Molina led the National League with a .336 average, Allen Craig was second with a .334 average and Matt Carpenter was fifth with a .325 average.

It's no wonder the Cardinals are scoring, even without the home run.

While the three have just 26 combined homers, they've driven in 182 runs and each ranks in the top 25 among NL position players in wins above replacement.

"We have a really good thing going offensively as a collective group, and I feel like it's something where not one guy has to shoulder the load," Craig said.

Worth noting
• Molina has struck out in just 8.8 percent of his plate appearances, making him the fourth-hardest player to strike out in the NL.

• Evan Gattis has added some power to the middle of the Braves' lineup since his return from the 15-day disabled list on July 14. He's gone 9-for-32 with three multihit games.

• Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay carries a 241-game errorless streak into Friday, marking the longest active streak in the NL.

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