Cards bats stay hot as Lynn earns 12th win

Cards bats stay hot as Lynn earns 12th win

Cards bats stay hot as Lynn earns 12th win
ST. LOUIS -- A dismal road trip that left the Cardinals lamenting wasted chances and staring at a growing division deficit seems like a faint memory since returning home on Friday.

Concerns about an offense gone quiet were remedied by a visit from the Cubs, who played the role of the punching bag again on Sunday. After a night in which the Cardinals had an historic, one-inning explosion, they dispersed their production in a 7-0 victory in front of 42,411 at Busch Stadium.

With the win, St. Louis captured its first sweep in a month and its first home sweep in two. In the three games, the Cardinals outscored the Cubs, 23-1, after totaling only 15 runs in the preceding 1-5 road swing. Chicago ended the series without scoring in 25 consecutive innings and never held a lead.

"It was a well-rounded series," manager Mike Matheny said. "We walked in here that first day after we got back from the rough road trip and talked about us missing that ability for somebody to step up. That was something that we were due for."

Indeed, it was the Cardinals' offense that supplanted the team's pitching as the most prominent storyline this weekend, if for no other reason than that the pitching has been going right for a while now.

While the Cubs finished hitless in 13 chances with runners in scoring position, St. Louis went 12-for-34. Two of those hits came in the first inning on Sunday and from a lineup that appeared diluted without Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal. The results hardly reflected the shuffle.

Allen Craig singled with one out and moved to third on Matt Holliday's subsequent double. With two out, Cubs manager Dale Sveum opted to intentionally walk David Freese and have lefty starter Travis Wood take his chances against Jon Jay, who entered with only three hits in his previous 30 at-bats.

Jay didn't hit Wood's 1-2 slider hard, but he plopped it perfectly into shallow left field. Two runs scored. It was the first of a career-high four hits Jay would have on the afternoon.

"I was just trying to go out there and keep it simple," Jay said. "See the ball and hit the ball."

Tony Cruz, making only his fourth start of the month, followed with another two-run double, giving the Cardinals a quick 4-0 lead.

"That," Cruz said afterward, "is what we're capable of as a team."

The offense's prolific afternoon was eventually punctuated with back-to-back, first-pitch home runs by Holliday and Carlos Beltran in the fifth. It marked the seventh time this season that St. Louis has connected for back-to-back homers.

The Cardinals finished the series with 38 hits, 18 of which went for extra bases. Every starting position player had at least one hit on Sunday except for Tyler Greene, who did contribute a fourth-inning sacrifice fly.

"We have good hitters," said Holliday, who has 28 RBIs over his last 29 games. "We weren't going to score as little as we did the first two series. I was pretty confident that wasn't going to be the case the rest of the year."

The margin of victory improved the Cardinals' run-differential to plus-86, which is tops in the National League. The Cardinals monopolized the series scoring, too, against a Cubs club that, while owners of one of baseball's worst records, had been playing well of late.

Chicago arrived in St. Louis having won six of its last seven games. Yet, it ran into a club bound to break out.

"That's a good ballclub across the way," Sveum said. "They won the World Series last year, so it's always going to be tough to face that lineup, especially when we have to throw left-handers at them. They kill left-handers."

The Cardinals are batting .279 against lefties this year.

While the offense collectively woke up, the Cardinals' starting pitchers continued their roll. Lance Lynn followed Jake Westbrook's scoreless start on Saturday with six shutout innings on Sunday. The Cardinals last shut out an opponent in consecutive games on Oct. 1-2, 2010, when they did so against the Rockies.

St. Louis starters have finished at least six innings in every game this month.

"We're just in a rhythm and we need to stay there," Lynn said. "[The] offense is doing [its] part, and we need to do our part. That's what it's all about."

Lynn has now allowed just one run in 13 innings since coming off an 11-day break, even though he says he hasn't felt exactly right since that extended time off.

It wasn't all easy for Lynn on Sunday, as he dealt with a runner on second and no outs in each of his first two innings. Lynn didn't allow either runner -- or anyone else in the four innings that followed -- to get to third. The Cubs pushed only two runners to third base all series.

With Sunday's win, Lynn joins R.A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez as the only NL pitchers to win at least a dozen games this season.

"Before the All-Star break, I had those few starts that were pretty miserable, and it upset me," Lynn said. "I'm pitching with a little chip on my shoulder, trying to get as many outs as I can before they come get me."

The bullpen -- though it didn't factor much into these last two games -- combined for seven scoreless innings. It was the first time since April that the club completed a series without allowing a run in relief.

"We know the talent is here," Jay said. "You go through streaks where nothing goes right. But when you look at the character of guys in this team and just the talent level, there's no reason why we shouldn't be [winning]."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.