ST. LOUIS -- Mark Reynolds thought he was merely volunteering for a one-day duty a week ago when he assisted manager Mike Matheny by bringing the lineup card to the home-plate umpire. Seven days later, it's now a part of his job description.
The Cardinals scored 11 times to beat the Phillies that evening, leaving Reynolds to be hunted each pregame since to make the walk to home plate. The club hasn't lost under his lineup watch, stringing together its longest winning streak since 2010 and racing out to an early 5 1/2-game cushion in the National League Central.
"They're all over me [saying], 'Where is Reynolds? We have to get him out there,'" Reynolds said after Monday's 10-9 win over the Cubs, which was helped by his first-inning grand slam. "But if we keep winning, I'll take it."
St. Louis' victory on Monday was arguably its most improbable in what is officially the best season start (through 25 games) in modern franchise history. The start includes a 12-2 record at home and 14 wins in 18 games against division opponents.
Each of the last four wins have been by a one-run margin, first with three extra-inning walk-off celebrations against the Pirates, and then in a series-opening win on Monday that began with the club staring into a five-run deficit before ever getting to bat.
"I think I said yesterday that 'wow' was my explanation," Matheny said. "I don't even know what to give you today because, to me, that's just a sign of a tough team, a mentally tough team that is going to be relentless. I hope that's something that we never lose."
The Cardinals lead the league with a plus-41 run differential and top the Majors with a 2.42 team ERA. The offense, which had been slow to gain traction, has been sparked by Matheny's batting order shuffle last week. The only team with a better on-base percentage is the Dodgers, leaders in the NL West.
St. Louis has raced out to the Majors' best record, too, despite a flurry of injuries to key players. Adam Wainwright suffered a season-ending injury that could have thrown the pitching staff into a state of flux. The club has also lost its eighth-inning setup man (Jordan Walden) and power threat off the bench (Randal Grichuk). None of it has slowed the team down.
"It's just a team full of guys who grind out every inning, every pitch, every out," said Tony Cruz, the latest to deliver a game-winning RBI. "I can't pinpoint one thing. It's all just a team effort."