ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals third baseman David Freese will likely return to the starting lineup Sunday for the finale of the three-game series with Washington.

Freese rolled his right ankle in the indoor batting cage prior to Monday's game at Houston.

The MVP of the 2011 World Series has been progressing steadily since the freak injury, which occurred when he stepped into a soft spot while getting in a few late cuts minutes before the start of the game.

"I felt pretty good running, making cuts and turning," Freese said. "I'm close."

Freese, who has 20 homers and 79 RBIs this season, took batting practice both Friday and Saturday.

Manager Mike Matheny is treating Freese's injury with kid gloves and wants to make sure he is close to 100 percent before putting him back in the lineup.

"He's still not quite there," Matheny said. "Hopefully, he'll be there [Sunday]."

Freese has eight hits in his last 12 at-bats and has reached a career high in homers. The Cardinals are 16-3 when he homers.

Matt Carpenter had done a solid job at third in Freese's absence.

"I'm trying to get back as soon as I can," Freese said. "But you sleep better when you're hurt and you're still winning."

Berkman not optimistic about chances to return

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman says his chances of returning this season are diminishing every day.

Berkman, out since Sept. 11 when he underwent his second knee surgery of the season, is hitting in the batting cage every other day, but he has yet to test the knee by running at full speed.

"It's probably a long shot that I will be playing in the playoffs," he said. "When I physically feel that I can get out there, I'll try to get out there."

Berkman has appeared in 31 games this season with two homers and seven RBIs.

"The reality is I've basically missed the entire season," he said. "Even if I were to get back out there physically, you still have the issue of not being game-ready. I don't think it would be fair to the team to be added to the playoff roster and take somebody's spot that could actually help us win."

Berkman has 360 homers and 1,200 RBIs in his 14-year career. At age 36, his status for next season is up in the air. Retirement is a distinct possibility.

For now, Berkman is enjoying the Cardinals' National League Wild Card run, with the team up three games on the Dodgers for the second spot entering Saturday's game with the Nationals. But he wishes he could be contributing on a regular basis.

"I'm just around here for the ambiance," he joked.

Holliday shakes off bruise to slot in Cards' lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday returned to the starting lineup Saturday after he was hit on the left elbow by a pitch from Christian Garcia in the sixth inning of Friday's 12-2 win.

The pitch appeared to hit Holliday's funny bone.

"He came in today obviously sore," manager Mike Matheny said. "They did some work on him and got it loosened up to where he's ready to go."

Holliday suffered a bruise and some temporary pain but is eager to return. He is mired in an 0-for-10 slump.

The five-time National League All-Star is hitting .292 with 27 homers and 101 RBIs this season heading into Saturday's game against Washington. He reached the 100-RBI plateau for the fifth time in his career.

Worth noting

• Reliever Edward Mujica returned to his home in Miami on the off-day Thursday to see his 3-month-old daughter, Brianna. Mujica was acquired at the July 31 Trade Deadline from Miami just 21 days after Brianna was born. He had not seen his daughter since the trade. His wife Erika kept Edward updated through daily photos.

• The Cardinals finished the 2012 campaign on the road with a 38-43 mark. They won five of their final seven road contests.

• Matheny, in his first season as manager, is enjoying the pennant race pressure of the past few weeks. "I love playing these games with meaning," he said. "The buzz, the excitement when the guys walk in here. The weather changing, the fans buzzing. This is just an incredible atmosphere."