The Cardinals again are in the thick of the fight for a playoff spot and bucking up for a final push that will determine the success of their season.
St. Louis is in third place in the NL Central, 8 1/2 games behind the first-place Reds and two behind the Pirates. The Cards are in fourth place in the Wild Card standings, but only two games behind the Pirates for the second playoff spot.
The Astros, who dismissed manager Brad Mills and two of their coaches Saturday, will be playing their second game under interim manager Tony DeFrancesco, who will be in charge of carrying out a plan to find out as much as possible about as many of the team's young players and prospects as possible.
Veteran right-hander Adam Wainwright, who has found an impressive groove and rhythm of late, will start the first game of the series for the Cardinals.
Fellow right-hander Lucas Harrell, who has put together an outstanding season in the rubble of his team's Major League worst won-loss record, will pitch for the Astros.
Wainwright, 30, has put together six straight quality starts and has won four of them, compiling a 1.91 ERA in that span.
In his last outing Wednesday against the D-backs, Wainwright gave up two runs on five hits in six innings in a 5-2 Cardinals victory, bumping his season record to 11-10 with a 3.87 ERA.
Wainwright's success comes at an opportune time for the Cardinals as a they gear up for the stretch run and the fight for a playoff spot.
"We've got to win every series. It doesn't matter who it's against," manager Mike Matheny said.
It will be all hands on deck every day with little in the way of plans to give pitchers or others extra rest the remainder of the season, Matheny said.
"Right now, we're just gonna keep rolling with our guys," Matheny said. "Giving guys extra days isn't necessarily a bad thing. You have to make adjustments. You have to be ready for that and we have plans and options for what we could possibly do.
"But for right now, we're just gonna keep rolling with our guys."
Wainwright knows how he has to approach the rest of the season.
"Going out there and finding a way to win," he said after the victory over the D-backs.
First baseman Allen Craig admires Wainwright's approach to pitching.
"Just his presence on the mound and his demeanor and the confidence he brings going out there and throwing strikes," Craig said. "He gets guys out early in the count and has been efficient. It's been really good."
Harrell, 27, improved his record to 10-8 with a 3.81 ERA with a strong outing in a 10-1 victory over the Cubs Tuesday.
He dominated the Cubs for eight innings, giving up six hits and striking out seven.
Harrell found a good groove early and worked at a brisk pace with confidence.
"I kind of settled in and was just trying to pitch to keep us in the game, keep us in the lead," Harrell said.
Picked up on waivers last July after the White Sox drafted him in the fourth round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2004, Harrell has gone from a guy who was not even in the running for a rotation spot at one point in Spring Training to the Astros' likely Most Valuable Player.
DeFrancesco, who has spent 17 years as a Minor League manager and most recently was managing the Astros' Triple-A Oklahoma City team, hopes to convince team management to give him the job permanently, but understands his priorities the rest of the season.
"We're going to put the best nine guys on the field and compete our butts off day in and day out for the next 41 games," he said Sunday.
"I know that it's hard for the fans here to understand the process we're going through, but today's the first day. I'm going to tell the players it's a new beginning. From now until the end of the season, we're going to see how good we can be.
"All we can do is prepare every day. Maybe mixing some things up a little bit, mix the lineup up a little bit. Give some guys some more consistent playing time, help their confidence."
Astros: Greene returns to St. Louis
• Tyler Greene will return to St. Louis after being traded to Houston on Aug. 9.
Greene played sparingly over more than three years with the Cardinals after being drafted by them in the first round in 2005.
He was hitting .218 with four homers in 77 games with St. Louis before getting traded.
Greene welcomed a change of venues, and is now batting .355 with two homers in nine games with Houston.
Greene will clean out his apartment in St. Louis while he's there, he said.
Cardinals: Bullpen works overtime
• The Cardinals went deep into their bullpen in Sunday's 19-inning loss to the Pirates, using seven relievers, but none of them went more than an inning except Joe Kelly. who pitched 5 2/3 innings.
With an off-day Monday, all but Kelly should be available by the start of the Astros series.
• This will be the first series between the two teams in St. Louis this season after they played two in Houston earlier.
It will be a homecoming for Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and bench coach Joe Pettini, in addition to Greene.
Luhnow was hired as GM in December after eight years working with the Cards, and Pettini was brought aboard this year as bench coach after 10 seasons as bench coach under Tony La Russa, who retired after winning the World Series in 2011.
"It will definitely be a unique experience to go back," Luhnow said. "I plan to walk through the front offices and see a bunch of people I haven't seen since December of last year.
"It will be nice to see a lot of people I've considered friends and worked with for eight seasons. That part will be great and our team will be competitive and we'll show them what we're building here."