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STL@PIT: Westbrook allows two runs and fans six

The Cardinals already boasted the best run differential in baseball before erupting for another double-digit performance Wednesday night -- their second in two nights -- pushing their series total to 22 runs. On Thursday, St. Louis looks to keep the barrage going in support of Jake Westbrook, who hasn't needed much offensive help this season.

Westbrook has lasted seven innings in three of his four starts and allowed two earned runs or fewer all four outings. Westbrook, 3-1 with a 1.30 ERA, comes off a seven-inning effort in which he allowed one earned run, seven hits and struck out five with zero walks against the Brewers on April 27.

However, Pittsburgh handed Westbrook his only loss of the season, getting to the right-hander for two runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings on April 21.

If Westbrook can stay true to the form he has shown this season, he would become the third pitcher in the Cardinals' rotation to notch four wins. Entering Thursday, no other rotation has two four-game winners. When putting his early 2012 into review, Westbrook was sure about one thing:

"Without a doubt, this is definitely the best start I've had so far," he said. "I'm just riding a lot of confidence right now, trusting my sinker on the plate and being aggressive. It's worked out so far."

It will be up to Erik Bedard to try to at least slow the explosive St. Louis offense. Bedard has pitched well, but did not pick up his first victory until his previous start -- a five-inning, one-run outing with a season-high nine strikeouts against the Braves on April 28.

Bedard is just 1-4, but has not allowed more than two earned runs any of his starts and has been tagged for just one home run in 29 innings. This is Bedard's second turn against the Cardinals this season. The southpaw went seven innings and allowed three runs (two earned) with seven strikeouts in a loss on April 22.

Pirates: Alvarez on a roll
Pedro Alvarez's season got off to a slow start, but the third baseman has stepped up his production over the last week and a half. Since April 21, Alvarez .388 (14-for-36) with four home runs, 10 RBIs, 15 runs scored and four doubles. Alvarez's six home runs tie him with the Cardinals' David Freese for the most by a National League third baseman.

Cardinals: Craig likely to return to lineup on Thursday
Allen Craig came off the disabled list on Tuesday, but the Cardinals wanted to somewhat ease him back into action. He played Tuesday and was available on the bench on Wednesday.

• Manager Mike Matheny acknowledged he is likely to get his bench more involved in the coming days. The Cards just began a stretch of 29 games in 30 days, so Matheny said he is going to start being more liberal with days off. St. Louis had five scheduled days off in April, mitigating the need for starters to receive regular rest.

"We're going to have to be more careful with [the starters]. It's going to be a long month," Matheny said.

Worth noting
• Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is a career .377 (20-for-53) hitter in Busch Stadium. McCutchen, who had the day off on Wednesday, has been held hitless at Busch Stadium just twice in 14 career games.

• Cards catcher Yadier Molina stole two bases on Tuesday for the first time since Aug. 28, 2005. Comments