SAN FRANCISCO -- In reeling off seven wins in their last eight games, capped by a 7-5 victory over the Giants on Sunday, the Cardinals rebounded from an ominous start to a 10-game road trip and ensured they headed home in the exact same position they were when the lengthy stay on the West Coast began.
With a 7-3 record on the trip, the Cardinals negated a strong week by the pursuant Pirates. The 4 1/2-game lead the Cardinals held in the National League Central upon opening a series in San Diego on Aug. 21 is the same cushion they'll enjoy when beginning a nine-game homestand Monday. In between, the Cardinals, who are seeking a third straight division title, shaved 10 games off their magic number.
"Probably the ugliest start to a road trip you can have and then a nice finish," said Matt Carpenter, who hit his 20th homer of the year in Sunday's win. "You look at the overall record and think, 'Wow, we would have taken that going into it.'"
The Padres pounded the Cardinals last weekend, outscoring St. Louis 17-3 in consecutive wins. The Cardinals stop the slippage with a win last Sunday that jump-started a stretch in which they would outscore their opponents 49-21. The club followed that win in San Diego with its first four-game sweep in Arizona and then a series win in San Francisco, where two of the Cardinals' last three seasons ended.
In doing so, the club improved its road record to 38-27, the best road winning percentage of any team in the Majors.
"You try and finish road trips, especially ones like this, at .500," said Jason Heyward, who went 12-for-35 on the trip. "You're playing good teams in their ballparks. It's a tough task to do, but great job by us."
After two uncharacteristic games in San Diego, the pitching staff found its way back on track, posting a 2.14 ERA during this 7-1 stretch. And despite posting two three-error games (both losses), the Cardinals' defense shined with 14 double plays turned to prevent additional damage.
A Cardinals offense that has been too often unreliable scored 52 runs over the 10 days and produced five or more runs in six games. The club hit 10 home runs, with six players contributing at least one.
"We did have a couple in San Diego that didn't look right, but I thought the guys did a great job of fixing it and changing the course to make it look like what it has for the majority of the season," manager Mike Matheny said. "I'm seeing really good at-bats all the way up and down the lineup, guys looking like they're getting into good counts, taking aggressive swings, doing damage when we can do some damage, and doing the little things when we need to do the little things."