One swing from Allen Craig is greatly responsible for the St. Louis Cardinals being back alone atop the NL Central.
Facing Mat Latos could knock them off their perch.
Craig and the surging Cardinals will try to begin building a cushion in the division race Tuesday night when they try to solve Latos and beat the Cincinnati Reds again.
St. Louis (77-54) leads the Central by one-half game over Pittsburgh and is 3 1/2 ahead of third-place Cincinnati (74-58).
Craig helped push the Cardinals back into sole possession of first place for the first time since July 29. His third hit of the game Monday was his first career grand slam with two outs in the seventh, completing a rally that gave St. Louis an 8-6 win in the opener of this three-game series.
"No bigger or better at-bat all season," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's been so good in that situation."
Craig is 7 for 10 with 20 RBIs with the bases loaded this season. He leads the majors with a .452 average with runners in scoring position, a major reason why he's amassed a career-high 95 RBIs to lead the team.
The All-Star first baseman is 10 for 20 with seven RBIs in his past six games for St. Louis, which has won eight of 10.
A meeting with Latos (13-4, 2.93 ERA), however, could pose a problem for the Cardinals.
The right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA over his last four starts against them, three of which came this season. He last faced them June 8 and got the win, yielding two runs in seven innings of a 4-2 home victory and limiting Craig to an infield single in three at-bats.
Latos is looking to match his career high of 14 wins and is on a dazzling run, surrendering three runs in 30 1-3 innings this month. He's 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA over his last seven starts.
He overcame an illness to beat Arizona on Thursday, getting sick before the game and twice more over eight innings while yielding one run in a 2-1 victory.
"Latos gave us what we wanted," manager Dusty Baker said. "A security guard told me he was vomiting underneath the stands."
St. Louis counters by giving Joe Kelly (5-3, 3.01) his first start versus the Reds. He's 1-0 in two relief appearances against them, allowing one run in five innings.
The right-hander is 5-0 with a 2.33 ERA in eight starts since joining the rotation July 6.
"He's like having a Ferrari in your garage," second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "He's settling in as a starter and he's running with it. I love it when he goes out there and competes. He's aggressive and he's pitching with confidence."
That was certainly on display Thursday, when Kelly beat the Braves as he battled through a career-high 109 pitches while allowing two runs in six innings of a 6-2 win.
He'll have to contend with Zack Cozart , who is 8 for 21 in his last six games and has eight RBIs over the past four.
While Cozart doubled and tripled while driving in three runs Monday, Jay Bruce homered and singled to make him 10 for 29 (.345) in seven games at St. Louis this year.
|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) -- Matt Holliday was hit by a ball three times while he was in the batter's box. He was sore from head to toe.
Of course, he did have a great big smile on his face after another important victory for St. Louis.
Holliday drove in a run for the seventh consecutive game, helping Joe Kelly and the Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-1 on Tuesday night.
St. Louis won for the sixth time in seven games, including the first two of its three-game series against third-place Cincinnati. The NL Central-leading Cardinals moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh, which lost to Milwaukee, and 4 1/2 games up on the Reds, who won the division last year.
Kelly (6-3) scattered eight hits and allowed one run in six innings. He also walked three but managed to improve to 6-0 since rejoining the starting rotation on July 6.
The 25-year-old Kelly has won each of his last three starts and five of his last six overall. He has a 2.08 ERA in 34 2-3 innings this month.
"I made pitches when I had to and I enjoyed that," Kelly said. "My arm felt good. They got guys in scoring position a couple times, I just tried to bear down and leave those guys out there."
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny is impressed with Kelly's recent run.
"Joe did a good job, he had great life again," Matheny said. "He just keeps making good starts for us."
Shin-Soo Choo homered for the Reds, who lost for the fourth time in five games. Cincinnati's last 13 batters went down in order in its third consecutive loss to St. Louis, making it 4-10 against the Cardinals this year.
The hot-hitting Holliday had a rough game at the plate, at least physically. He fouled two separate pitches off his foot and toe in different at-bats. He also was plunked on the shoulder by a pitch from Alfredo Simon in the eighth.
The last blow signaled the end of his day.
But he went 2 for 3, including an RBI single against Mat Latos in St. Louis' two-run first. He is batting .346 with three homers and 10 RBIs over his last seven games.
Holliday's RBI string is tied for the second-longest in the majors this season. Arizona slugger Paul Goldschmidt had an eight-game RBI run in early June.
Latos (13-5) gave up four runs and nine hits over six-plus innings. He has dropped two of his last three starts.
The Cardinals went 4 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
"That's the type of team that we are," Holliday said.
Holliday admitted that he was sore after the rough night. He even joked he would soon be wearing a catcher's shin guard to the plate to prevent any further damage.
The Cardinals needed just 14 pitches to take a 2-0 lead. Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran began the first back-to-back singles. Holliday then singled in Carpenter, who scored his major league-leading 100th run. Beltran scored when Allen Craig bounced into a double play.
Choo hit a leadoff drive in the fifth for his 100th career homer, but the Cardinals answered with single runs in the sixth and seventh and scored twice in the eighth.
Craig pushed the lead to 3-1 with a run-scoring double in the sixth, giving him 96 RBIs on the year. Carpenter brought in Jon Jay with a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
"A loss is a loss, you've just got to play better baseball," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "There are a few things we've still got to learn about playing winning baseball."
Baker was particularly upset with a baserunning error by Zack Cozart in the fourth inning. Cozart and Jay Bruce ended up on third base at the same time after Bruce was held while rounding third on a hit by Latos. The play ended the inning.
Had Cozart stopped at second and noticed Bruce was being held up, the Reds would have had the bases loaded for Choo.
"It's my (mistake) definitely," Cozart said. "It was a bad play. You have to keep your head up. When I got to third I was surprised Jay was even there. That was a big part of the game."
Baker was not in a forgiving mood.
"Sometimes guys have got to be held accountable for their actions," he said. "They're all big boys, they're all getting paid here."
NOTES: Adam Wainwright (15-7, 2.58 ERA) faces Homer Bailey (8-10, 3.71) in the final of the three-game series Wednesday. Bailey is 0-5 with a 6.90 ERA in seven career starts at Busch Stadium. ... St. Louis INF Pete Kozma is mired in a 0-for-23 slump. ... The Cardinals are 34-22 against NL Central opponents this season with 22 divisional games remaining. ... The Reds have spent the past 127 days in second, third or fourth place. ...Latos had two hits for his second multihit game of the season. ...The Cardinals have doubled in a season-high 18 consecutive games.