HOUSTON -- Many St. Louis players weren't around for the glory days of the Astros-Cardinals rivalry, but they're about to get a refresher course on what was once one of baseball's healthiest divisional showdowns.
With the Astros switching over to the American League West this year, it's transitioned the matchup from a regular divisional tilt to an Interleague oddity.
"We aren't that far removed [from them being in the NL], so it just feels like we're coming here to play the Astros like normal," said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny. "You take these series for granted sometimes, because that's not the case this time."
The Cardinals and Astros won 10 of 11 National League Central titles from 1996-2006, with the teams representing the league in the World Series for three straight years from 2004-06.
The franchises twice squared off in the NL Championship Series, producing two dramatic and memorable series. The Cardinals overcame a 3-2 series deficit en route to the 2004 pennant, while the Astros bounced back from Albert Pujols' monster Game 5 homer to secure the '05 crown in six games.
"It was the height of the postseason and tense and great baseball," said Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, who played for the Astros in '04. "They were tough, big games. Back then, Houston had a great team. And the Cardinals were right there matching it. A lot of the players on both sides are retired now, but it was exciting times for both sides."
The series is renewed under different circumstances, with the Cardinals a World Series contender yet again and the Astros near the bottom of the division -- similar to their final years in the NL Central.
St. Louis claimed the season series over Houston in five of the last six years, including winning 21 of 30 games in 2011-12.
While Matheny said he's still not used to Houston as an American League destination, he's happy one aspect will be missing from the two games.
"At least we don't have to watch the pitchers bat," he quipped.
Kelly to remain in relief role until July 6 start
HOUSTON -- The Cardinals will stick with four starting pitchers until July 6, when long reliever Joe Kelly is expected to start, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said Tuesday.
With three off-days between June 24 and July 8 and Tyler Lyons optioned to Triple-A, there's enough wiggle room to provide normal rest for the club's starters.
"We're going to skip Joe Kelly in the rotation this first time through," Matheny said. "Everybody will still get one day's extra rest, so it's going to be normal for them. They won't know the difference."
Kelly has been stretching and working out in the bullpen like he'll be starting and said he's been using his long relief outings to make his case for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
"Being the long guy out of the 'pen, my arm's ready to go for all situations," Kelly said. "When the off-days are over, I'll be ready then, too. It's ultimately the skipper and GM's decision, but it's exciting to have at least the opportunity."
Kelly started 16 games last season, going 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA over 91 1/3 innings. He's only started one game this year, tossing 5 2/3 innings with one earned run in a loss against Arizona on June 5.
With Adams at first base, Holliday starts at DH
HOUSTON -- With season-long Interleague Play in place for the first time this season, National League teams usually have stabilized their designated hitter position by late June.
The Cardinals are an exception, having played only two games against American League competition. That changes quickly, as Tuesday's game in Houston began a stretch of eight straight games in AL ballparks for St. Louis.
Matt Adams got the start at first base and hit sixth Tuesday, with Matt Holiday in the No. 5 hole as the designated hitter.
"We're just trying to get him going more than anything," said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny of Holliday's role. "I'm making some changes, seeing if we can jump-start him. I've got a responsibility to put guys in a good position, whether that's Matt playing the field or where he hits in the lineup. He's all about this team, no matter what his spot is."
Matheny wouldn't commit to an everyday DH, but Adams may see the most benefit from the extra spot in the lineup.
Adams made his 17th start at first base, and Matheny said he could see action again in Wednesday's game.
"That opportunity was there today, and tomorrow's a lefty [Erik Bedard], so we'll see," Matheny said. "We're just as excited as he is to see him in that lineup."
Top prospect Taveras back on DL with ankle injury
HOUSTON -- Outfielder Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals' No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, is on the seven-day disabled list with an ankle injury for a second time this year.
Taveras was removed from Triple-A Memphis' game on June 23 after aggravating a sprained ankle while trying to get back to second base on a pickoff attempt. He drove in three runs in the game.
He already missed playing time between May 12 and June 8 with the ankle issue, going on the disabled list on May 28. While healthy, he's considered an elite outfield prospect and a potential rising star.
While the injury appears to be lingering, Taveras' production has been solid. He's batting .306 with five homers and 32 RBIs in 46 games. But he's hitting only .222 against left-handed pitching, by far the lowest of his career.
Fortunately for St. Louis, the club's outfield depth is deep at the Major and Minor League levels, meaning Taveras will likely be given more time to fully recover.
Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.