ST. LOUIS (AP) - Lefty Jaime Garcia, who thrives at home with a career 20-11 record and 2.48 ERA, gets the call in the series opener against Mat Latos and the Reds, who finished a comfortable nine games ahead of St. Louis last season. The Cardinals are 3-3 after building momentum at the expense of the World Series champion Giants, the team they let off the hook in the NL championship series, pummeling ace Matt Cain in the series finale while taking two of three.

"We don't draw it up, so we just have to compete with whatever they give us," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's a great test, no question about it. You want to have everybody clicking early on and get off to a good start, but we also understand it's a long season."

Before the end of the month, they'll also face the NL East champion Nationals, a Phillies team that has returned to health and the Reds again. The wild-card Cardinals beat the Braves in a one-game playoff and then rallied to eliminate Washington before collapsing in San Francisco.

"I think you want to find out where you are as early as possible," Descalso said. "The way you find out is by playing other tough teams."

After watching the Giants trot out their title trophy, the Cardinals will show off hardware from four of their championship teams: 1967, 1982, 2006 and 2011. Players will drink in the heady atmosphere of perhaps the city's biggest annual event, with Gov. Jay Nixon and Mayor Francis Slay among the dignitaries expected to attend.

"St. Louis is a great city and baseball town," catcher Yadier Molina said. "I can't wait to get there."

The same goes for third baseman David Freese, hopeful of returning for the opener off a short rehab stint from a back injury with Triple-A Memphis, although Matheny cautioned that "it's not automatic."

The Reds are coming off a strong 4-2 opening homestand against two teams that are expected to contend, putting up six runs on Stephen Strasburg on Sunday and taking two of three from the Nationals and Angels. Todd Frazier is second on the NL with a .480 average, leads the league with 12 hits including three homers, and is tied for first with nine RBIs. Newcomer Shin-Soo Choo also is off to a fast start with three homers.

"St. Louis is always a good place to play," Jay Bruce said. "The fans come out every day, it's always packed. There's always a good feel there."

The Cardinals have dominated at home against the Reds, who have won just three series and split two out of 27 chances dating to 2003. The Reds are far from intimidated.

"We'll take them one game at a time," manager Dusty Baker said. "Let's enjoy this one, go there, have a nice dinner and get some sleep."

Lance Lynn (0-0) faces Bronson Arroyo (1-0) in the second game of the series on Tuesday, with Jake Westbrook (0-1) opposing Homer Bailey (1-0) in the finale.

The Reds set a franchise record with 52 strikeouts the first five games, and Johnny Cueto and three relievers combined for 10 strikeouts on Sunday.


AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco and Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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