published Monday, September 12th, 2011

Molina powers Cardinals past Braves

ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals are back in the playoff picture.

Molina had three hits, including a three-run double, and the Cardinals beat the slumping Atlanta Braves 6-3 on Sunday to complete a three-game series sweep.

The Cardinals pulled within 4 1/2 games of NL wild card-leading Atlanta and remained six games back of Central-leading Milwaukee They have 16 games left and open a three-game set in Pittsburgh on Monday.

The Braves start a three-game series with the Marlins on Monday and have 15 games remaining.

"I feel like we are [in the race] if we keep winning," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "It's exciting baseball. Guys have come through all over the roster. We got a shot."

The Cardinals know they have left themselves no margin for error.

"It doesn't mean anything if you go and you don't have a good road trip," first baseman Albert Pujols said. "We're just going to continue playing and at the end of the road trip we'll see where we are."

Atlanta has dropped seven straight games at Busch Stadium and hasn't won in St. Louis since Sept. 13, 2009. The Braves lost six of eight on their road trip.

"We did nothing right," Braves star Chipper Jones said of the road stint.

Jake Westbrook (12-8) allowed two runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings for the Cardinals. Jason Motte pitched a scoreless ninth for his fifth save in eight chances.

"It was a good win for us," Westbrook said. "I would have liked to have gotten deeper in the game and saved our bullpen a little bit but that just wasn't the case."

St. Louis got to Tim Hudson (14-10) for five runs in the third, taking advantage of a lapse in control by the right-hander. Hudson plunked Daniel Descalso leading off the inning, and hit Jon Jay with another pitch with two down, leaving runners on the corners.

Pujols hit an RBI single before Hudson issued consecutive walks to Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, forcing home a run. Molina then cleared the bases with a double to right, making it 5-0.

Hudson was charged with six runs and eight hits in six innings.

"I made my bed," Hudson said. "I set them up for an inning, and I just didn't make good pitches. They had good at-bats and made me pay for it."

Jones did hit a solo drive in the eighth for his 17th homer of the season and No. 453 for his career, moving him ahead of Carl Yastrzemski and into 33rd place. Freddie Freeman singled in a run for Atlanta, and pinch-hitter Matt Diaz had a sacrifice fly.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said his team needs to regroup a bit after playing eight road games in seven days.

"It feels like we're close offensively," Gonzalez said. "Let's just go home, lick our wounds a little bit and go get them."

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