A series against the Houston Astros came at an advantageous time for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lance Lynn will look to help the Cardinals win three straight for the first time in nearly a month Wednesday night against the major league-worst Astros.
St. Louis increased its lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second NL wild card to 1 1/2 games with a 4-1 win Tuesday. The Dodgers were idle because of a rainout and are scheduled to play a doubleheader at Washington on Wednesday.
The Cardinals (78-70) extended their tenuous lead after Kyle Lohse pitched seven scoreless innings and added an RBI double in the fifth.
St. Louis had lost 13 of 19 before Tuesday's win - its sixth straight over the Astros, who suffered their 100th loss of the season.
Looking to win seven in a row against the Astros in a single season for the first time since 1996, the Cardinals seek their first three-game win streak overall since a four-game run from Aug. 21-24.
Lynn (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will try to win a second consecutive start after making six straight relief appearances. Starting in place of the injured Jake Westbrook , Lynn gave up one run and struck out seven in six innings of a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers on Thursday.
"That's one of the best starts he's had this season," manager Mike Matheny said. "It just says volumes about his makeup and his stuff. It was a tough transition to the bullpen, and some guys handle it better than others."
Lynn's return to the rotation could be brief, however. Westbrook, who is out with a right oblique strain, told the team's official website he thinks he could return as soon as next week. Chris Carpenter is also scheduled to make his season debut Friday.
For now, Lynn hopes to continue taking advantage of the opportunity. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two career starts and one relief appearance against the Astros. In a start June 7, he allowed two runs and struck out 11 over six innings of a 14-2 victory.
Houston (48-100) didn't put up much more of a fight Tuesday, going 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
The Astros need nine wins in their final 14 games to avoid surpassing last season's franchise-record 106 losses. They're enjoying the role of spoiler, having won three of four against Philadelphia over the weekend and eight of 16 overall this month."We know what's on their mind over there, to get that second wild-card spot," center fielder Justin Maxwell said. "If we can do our job and win games, we can definitely be the spoilers."
Lucas Harrell (10-9, 3.86) will try to snap a five-start winless streak when he goes to the mound Wednesday.
He allowed four runs and five walks over 5 2-3 innings of a 6-4 win over the Phillies on Thursday.
The right-hander is 2-1 despite a 6.61 ERA in three starts against the Cardinals this year, most recently allowing six runs and eight hits over five innings of a 7-0 road loss Aug. 21.
|September 07, 2012||Jose Altuve||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left abdominal|
|August 30, 2012||Marwin Gonzalez||Day-to-Day||Torn ligament, left ankle|
|August 28, 2012||Bud Norris||Day-to-Day||Left game - blister|
|August 22, 2012||Justin Maxwell||Day-to-Day||Bruised right index finger|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|September 09, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Swollen left ankle|
|September 09, 2012||Matt Carpenter||Day-to-Day||Cut hand|
|September 09, 2012||Jake Westbrook||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Rafael Furcal||15-Day DL||Torn UCL, right elbow - out for season|
|August 30, 2012||Rafael Furcal||Day-to-Day||Left game - right elbow strain|
|August 28, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained upper back|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Lance Lynn learned a lot from his 18-day stint in the St. Louis bullpen.
Lynn, making his second start since an Aug. 25 demotion, tossed 6 1-3 innings and David Freese and Yadier Molina both hit their 20th home run of the season to lead the Cardinals to a 5-0 victory over the Houston Astros on Wednesday night.
The Cardinals, who have won seven straight against Houston, moved two games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for the second wild card in the National League. Milwaukee is 2 1-2 games back.
St. Louis has won three straight for the first time since a four-game streak from Aug. 21-24.
The Cardinals have five players with at least 20 homers for the first time in franchise history. Carlos Beltran (29), Matt Holliday (27) and Allen Craig (21) already hit the milestone.
Lynn (16-7) allowed three hits, struck out five and walked two in a 102-pitch stint. It was his second successive strong effort since posting a 6.56 ERA in five August starts.
"I got away from what I was all about early on in the season," Lynn said. "I got off track, and tried to start nibbling and throwing breaking pitches.
"Now, I'm going right after hitters and it's making all my stuff better."
Lynn is 2-0 with 12 strikeouts, four walks and one earned run in 12 1-3 innings since his return.
Lynn, who leads a talented staff in wins, retired nine straight batters after Jose Altuve 's double to start the game. The All-Star was removed from the rotation after an Aug. 24 outing in which he gave up four earned in two innings at Cincinnati. He made six appearances in the bullpen before returning to the rotation last Thursday at Los Angeles. He gave up one run and five hits in six innings of a 2-1 win.
Manager Mike Matheny believes Lynn has returned to the rotation a smarter and more aggressive pitcher.
"He didn't go down to the bullpen and sulk, he tried to make himself better," Matheny said. "I think he learned a lot about his demeanor. He shortened up his mechanics, really tightened everything up."
Molina said Lynn was at his early season form. Lynn was 8-1 through the first two months of the season.
"He was outstanding, he was keeping the ball down and he was aggressive," Molina said.
Freese hit a two-run homer off Lucas Harrell (10-10) in the second inning. Harrell, winless in six starts, gave up three runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings. He struck out seven and walked one.
"They have some guys that can hit the ball and you just want to work hard and try and get through the game," Harrell said.
Craig led off the second with a single to set the stage for Freese's shot. The Cardinals are 16-3 when Freese homers.
Molina homered in the fourth with one out to push St. Louis' lead to 3-0.
The 20 homers for Freese and Molina are both career highs.
"If you are a guy that's trying to solidify himself, that's the number that I think everybody else looks at," Freese said of the 20-homer mark. "It's nice to get to that number. We've got a good number of guys that have 20 or more. It's fun to be a part of."
Molina was pleased to get to the magical plateau.
"I can't lie, it's feels so good," he said.
Houston interim manager Tony DeFrancesco was impressed with Molina's game-calling skills as well as his new-found power.
"He's proven that he's one of the best players in the game right now both offensively and defensively," he said.
Jason Motte recorded his 37th save in 44 opportunities. Motte entered the game in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and one out, and ended it by striking out Chris Synder and Jimmy Paredes . Mitchell Boggs had struck out the side in the eighth on 12 pitches.
The Cardinals tacked on two runs in the eighth on successive hits by Jon Jay , Beltran and Holliday, and a sacrifice fly by Craig.
Notes: St. Louis RHP Jake Westbrook completed a successful bullpen session before the game. Westbrook, who strained a right oblique muscle on Sept 8, will throw again Friday. He is hoping to rejoin the rotation next week. ... Houston, which has used 11 rookies this season, has the youngest active roster in the majors, averaging 26.3 years. ... The Astros are 8-9 in September after rough stretches in August (5-22) and July (3-24). ... Former St. Louis OF Jim Edmonds was in attendance. ... Cardinals LHP Jaime Garcia (4-7, 4.24 ERA) will face Bud Norris (5-12, 4.93) in the series final on Thursday afternoon. Norris is 7-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 14 career starts against St. Louis.