First Pitch is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. at San Diego's Petco Park.
SAN DIEGO — Unlike their opponents this week at Petco Park, the Cardinals have had three different looks in three games at the top of lineup.
This is not some juggling act to end a rash of shutouts.
This is manager Oliver Marmol sticking with the matchups that got the Cardinals into first place and trusting that the offense produced as a result will rise again.
"We haven't executed to the degree that we have in the past," Marmol said in his office Thursday morning. "We haven't lost any confidence."
The Cardinals are looking to avoid a sweep in San Diego and something even more unnerving — a fourth consecutive shutout. The Cardinals have scored one run in their past 43 innings, and that run came in extra innings and was unearned. The run scored because a throw went off Andrew Knizner's elbow, not because of an RBI hit. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have gone more than 45 innings since their last RBI base hits, and the Cardinals haven't had any semblance of a rally since the third inning of Saturday's game.
But rather than overhaul the lineup in some radical way to spark production, Marmol has remained steady with how he's utilized the matchups based on the handedness of the opposing pitcher. A right-handed starter Thursday means Brendan Donovan up toward the top of the lineup. Instead of batting leadoff as he did in the first game of this series, Donovan sits at No. 2 behind Tommy Edman. Edman was the leadoff hitter for the second game of the series, but not the first.
The only constants in the Cardinals lineup has been Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, both of them players of the month at various times this season and both stuck in a September stumble.
Goldschmidt has felt out of sync with his timing and body movements at the plate. Arenado was out on the field for batting practice Thursday working on the direction of his swing and balance over his back leg.
Jack Flaherty has not had a win as the Cardinals' pitcher since August 2021. Injuries have twice interrupted this season, and his return from a recent stretch of rehab starts still informs how the Cardinals evaluate his outings. Marmol stressed before the game that the belief is that Flaherty should improve with each outing. He had more swings and misses in his most recent start, and he left that one frustrated by not pitching beyond the fifth inning.
Somewhere in a dumpster at Busch Stadium there's a shattered fridge that took the brunt of Flaherty's irritation.
The step for him against the Padres would be pitching deeper into the game.
That give the Cardinals' lineup more time to stir and calm any of the fridges in the vicinity that might be shivering, and not because they're cold.
"I have confidence that he will," Marmol said of Flaherty's advancing, improving, and progressing to being a starter they'll turn to in October.
Three innings after he thanked the Dodger Stadium crowd for helping him "bring back the joy" he had has a boy for the game baseball, Albert Pujols brought the game to the brink of one of the rarest celebrations.
Pujols singles, doubles, (surpassing Rogers Hornsby on the all-time Cardinals hits list), and homered in his first three at-bats.
8. Andrew Knizner, C
9. Lars Nootbaar, CF
P: Jack Flaherty
1. Jurickson Profar, LF
2. Juan Sota, RF
3. Manny Machado, 3B
4. Brandon Drury, 1B
5. Jake Cronenworth, 2B
6. Josh Bell, DH
7. Ha-Seong Kim, SS
8. Trent Grisham, CF
9. Luis Campusano, C
P: Joe Musgrove, RHP
RHP Jack Flaherty (0-1, 5.09 ERA): The Cardinals considered moving Flaherty's start around to have him start at Dodger Stadium over the weekend but sided instead with maintaining the turn of the rotation and setting him up for the finale in San Diego. It's the first time he'll appear at Petco Park since the night the Cardinals were eliminated from the 2020 playoffs.
RHP Joe Musgrove (10-7, 3.16 ERA): A San Diego area native and author of the first no-hitter in Padres history, Musgrove has 165 strikeouts in 165 innings this season, and he's averaging around five innings in his previous seven starts. At Petco this season, the right-hander is 3-4 with a 3.33 ERA in 14 games. He is pitching for a place in the Padres' postseason rotation, presumably behind ace Yu Darvish and lefty Blake Snell, should San Diego qualify as a wild-card for the NL playoffs.
Cardinals have been shutout three consecutive games for the first time since the final series of the 2015 season. They have not had an RBI in 43 consecutive innings or produced an earned run against an opponent since Saturday afternoon. The only run the Cardinals have scored in four games came in extra innings when they begin an inning with the head start of a runner at second base.
The Cardinals magic number to clinch the National League Central is six. Any combination of Brewer losses or Cardinals wins that equal six and the Cardinals will assure at least the third seed into the NL playoffs. They'll host the first round, wild-card series at Busch Stadium.
Albert Pujols has hit seven home runs in his career at San Diego's Petco Park. Petco is slightly more of a pitchers park than Busch Stadium ranking 28th in Statcast Park Effects compared to Busch Stadiums 27th. The most hitter friendly park, and thus ranking no. 1, is Coors Field in Colorado.
The Cardinals are 17-11 when playing the NL West this season, and 3-2 against the Padres.
Tyler O'Neill has been placed on the 10-day IL with a left hamstring strain. He continues to rest from the Grade 1 strain, and it's not yet clear when he will be resume baseball activities, though the Cardinals hope to have a feel for that while they're at Dodger Stadium during the coming weekend. (Updated Sept. 22)
Jordan Hicks (arm fatigue) is expected to resume throwing shortly with the possibility of being evaluated for a return during the next home stand, when he is eligible to come off the injured list. A battery of exams of his arm and neck did not show a structural reason for the sensation of fatigue that put him on the IL (Updated Sept. 22)
RHP Drew VerHagen (hip) and RHP Alex Reyes (shoulder) underwent season-ending surgeries. Both right-handed pitchers are expected to be ready for spring training after a winter of recovery. (Updated Aug. 20)
The Cardinals continue their west-coast road trip in San Diego and Los Angeles before returning to the Midwest for a two game stint in Milwaukee. They will then head back to St. Louis for the final home series of the season.
Check back here throughout the afternoon and evening for immediate coverage of the game and any news that surfaces from the Cardinals' pre-game activities. We will publish expanded game coverage online Thursday night, and also in the pages of Friday's Post-Dispatch.
Photos: Cardinals take two from the Reds, 5-1 and 1-0 in extra innings doubleheader