Cardinals win 4th straight, 4-0 over Astros

HOUSTON — Jaime Garcia pitched seven sharp innings and Jon Jay drove in two runs to help the St. Louis Cardinals improve their playoff chances with a 4-0 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

The Cardinals won their fourth straight and extended their winning streak over the last-place Astros to a franchise-best 10 games. They also moved 4 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee in the race for the second NL wild card. The Brewers lost in Cincinnati 4-2.

The Dodgers, who played later in San Diego, began the day 3 1/2 back.

With seven games remaining, St. Louis is closing in on the NL’s final available postseason spot. Atlanta clinched at least a wild-card berth by beating Miami 4-3 earlier Tuesday night.

Garcia (6-7) allowed six hits and struck out five to beat the Astros for the second time in a week after going 0-5 in his first seven starts against Houston. Mitchell Boggs and Joe Kelly completed the seven-hitter.

Houston starter Lucas Harrell (10-11) yielded seven hits and two runs with a career-high six walks in five innings to remain winless since Aug. 14.

Jay drove in a run with a single in the second and sent another run home on a forceout in a two-run eighth.

Harrell got into trouble early as Jay led off with a single. Matt Holliday drew a one-out walk before Allen Craig’s single loaded the bases. A sacrifice fly by Yadier Molina gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead.

Harrell limited the damage when he struck out Carlos Beltran to end the inning.

Garcia hit a two-out double to the left-field corner in the second and scored on a single by Jay, which rolled just out of the reach of a diving Jed Lowrie at shortstop and into center field to make it 2-0.

The Astros turned a double play to end the third inning and used another one for the first two outs of the fifth. The Cardinals had the bases loaded when Beltran hit a grounder that Matt Downs grabbed near first. He threw home for the first out before catcher Chris Snyder relayed back to first for the second one.

Harrell intentionally walked Daniel Descalso before Pete Kozma grounded out to end the threat.

Kozma continued his solid play in place of injured All-Star shortstop Rafael Furcal and had an RBI double in the eighth.

The Astros couldn’t string together any hits through the first six innings. Justin Maxwell singled in the seventh before a single by Brandon Laird with one out sent Maxwell to third. The Astros came away empty after a double play by St. Louis.

Houston interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said Tuesday could be Harrell’s last start of the season because the rookie entered the game having pitched more than 182 innings.

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