The St. Louis Cardinals are locked in a contentious NL Central race, and they have plenty of matchups with the other two contenders over the next two weeks.
In the first of 13 games against the other top division rivals, the Cardinals will try to take sole possession of first place for the first time this month while topping the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
The Cardinals (76-54) haven't been alone in first place since July 29 and could have ended that drought by finishing off a four-game sweep of Atlanta. Instead, they fell 5-2 on Sunday to the NL East leader and remained tied for first with Pittsburgh after the Pirates' 4-0 loss in San Francisco the same day.
"We were looking to get the win and couldn't get it, but it was a really good series for us, winning three games out of four against a tough team," first baseman Allen Craig told the team's website.
In his return to the rotation, Tyler Lyons (2-4, 5.09 ERA) will try to help St. Louis keep at least a share of the division lead and add to a slim 2 1/2-game edge over third-place Cincinnati (74-57).
The rookie left-hander, starting in place of an injured Jake Westbrook , is 0-4 with a 7.66 ERA in his last five major league starts after winning his first two. Lyons gave up four runs over 5 1-3 innings in a 4-2 loss in Cincinnati on June 8.
"(I'm) just sticking with what I was doing down (in the minors) and trying to use that here," he told the team's website.
The Cardinals, however, haven't dropped many games to the Reds lately, winning eight of the 12 matchups this season and 12 of the past 18. They've also won 10 of 14 overall.
The Reds enter this series having won 13 of 19 but dropped two of three to lowly Milwaukee this weekend. They were shut out for eight innings in a 3-1 loss Sunday.
"When we lose a series to any team at this point, we feel it's a missed opportunity," outfielder Jay Bruce , said.
Joey Votto had one of his team's five hits and is batting .410 (16 for 39) during a 12-game hit streak against the Cardinals. He doubled twice off Lyons in the win in June.
Yadier Molina , meanwhile, is batting .400 (14 for 35) during a nine-game hit streak against the Reds and will get to face Mike Leake (11-5, 3.12), who had a miserable outing against St. Louis on Aug. 4.
Leake, 1-1 with a 6.26 ERA in his four starts this month, was tagged for a season-high seven runs over five innings in a 15-2 drubbing. He earned a 10-7 victory over Arizona in his latest outing Wednesday, giving up four runs over six innings.
In his first start in St. Louis, Leake might want to pitch carefully to David Freese , who is 7 for 13 lifetime against the right-hander. Molina has a home run and a double in his last eight at-bats versus Leake while Carlos Beltran is 2 for 18, his worst showing against any active pitcher he's faced at least 18 times.
|August 22, 2013||Jonathan Broxton||60-Day DL||Flexor mass strain, right forearm|
|August 21, 2013||Tony Cingrani||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|August 21, 2013||Jonathan Broxton||Day-to-Day||Left game - elbow|
|August 20, 2013||Tony Cingrani||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained lower back|
|August 08, 2013||Corky Miller||15-Day DL||Right quad contusion|
|August 07, 2013||Corky Miller||Day-to-Day||Right quad contusion|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|August 22, 2013||Jake Westbrook||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|August 15, 2013||Tony Cruz||15-Day DL||Stress fracture, left forearm|
|August 11, 2013||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Right foot contusion|
|August 07, 2013||Shelby Miller||Day-to-Day||Right elbow contusion|
|July 31, 2013||Shane Robinson||15-Day DL||Strained right shoulder|
|July 31, 2013||Yadier Molina||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The St. Louis Cardinals needed a big hit with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh inning on Monday night. Fortunately for them, they had Allen Craig at the plate.
Craig hit his first career grand slam, helping the Cardinals rally for an 8-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds .
Matt Holliday also had a long three-run homer as St. Louis moved into sole possession of first place in the NL Central for the first time since July 29. The Cardinals lead idle Pittsburgh by a half-game and Cincinnati by 3 1/2 games in the top-heavy division.
Craig is 7 for 10 with 20 RBIs this season with the bases full.
"I think I've developed a pretty good approach that allows me to be successful in that position," Craig said. "I go up there confident and I believe in myself."
Rookie Carlos Martinez (1-1) pitched two innings for his first major league win and Edward Mujica worked a perfect ninth for his 35th save.
Zack Cozart had two hits and three RBIs for the Reds, who dropped to 4-9 against St. Louis this season. Jay Bruce hit his 25th homer in the eighth.
Cozart and Todd Frazier each hit a two-run triple off Tyler Lyons in the second, helping Cincinnati to a 4-0 lead. But Holliday belted a three-run drive deep to left in the third.
Holliday's 18th homer came against Mike Leake and traveled an estimated 442 feet for the longest shot by a St. Louis player at Busch Stadium this season.
"What it comes down to is that guys are just swinging the bats," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
The Cardinals went ahead to stay in the seventh. Jon Jay drove in a run with a bases-loaded grounder off Manny Parra (1-3). J.J. Hoover then came in and walked Holliday on a full-count pitch and Craig drove the next pitch over the wall in right for his 13th homer.
"I left it a little too much out over the plate," said Hoover, who has allowed three grand slams this season. "I knew he's a good hitter with the bases loaded and I didn't want to come in there on the first pitch."
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said Craig's drive was "devastating."
"They have a lot of dangerous hitters, but we helped them out with a couple walks," he added.
Craig improved to 14 for 31 (.452) in his career with the bases loaded. He is batting an eye-popping .452 with runners in scoring position this year, a big reason why he leads St. Louis with 95 RBIs.
"No bigger or better at bat all season," Matheny said. "He's been so good in that situation."
The crowd of 35,159 roared as Craig rounded the bases. The big first baseman then came out for a curtain call.
"I wasn't thinking about hitting a home run, I just wanted to hit it hard and in play," Craig said. "When guys are on, I just try and hit it hard somewhere and it usually works out."
Craig's drive helped the Cardinals rally from a four-run deficit, tying their largest comeback of the season. They also came from four down to beat Pittsburgh 6-5 in 12 innings on Aug. 15.
Bruce connected against Seth Maness , but that was it for Cincinnati, which lost for the third time in four games.
"We're getting down to crunch time and every series is important," Hoover said. "When you look back at the end of the season, one loss could be important."
Lyons settled down after the rough start and was charged with one earned run in five innings. He struck out a career-high seven and walked two.
"The second inning didn't go how I wanted it to," Lyons said. "It was just about bouncing back and trying to keep the team in the game for as long as possible. I think I did that."
Leake allowed five runs and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings. The right-hander is 1-1 with an unseemly 5.20 ERA in his last six starts.
NOTES: Joe Kelly (5-3, 3.01 ERA) will face Cincinnati's Mat Latos (13-4, 2.93 ERA) in the second game of the three-game series on Tuesday. Latos is 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break. ... The Cardinals are 24-3-2 in home series against Cincinnati since the start of the 2003 season. .... Holliday has driven in a run in his last six games.