Cards' offense finds rhythm it's been seeking

Behind three-run sixth inning, Lynn earns NL-leading fifth victory

Cards' offense finds rhythm it's been seeking

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals closed their homestand on Wednesday with the concentrated burst of offense that the club had been seeking for much of the past week. It was a glimpse, players said after the team's 4-2 win over Cincinnati, that should be the norm from a mostly established group of hitters.

With three runs off Reds starter Homer Bailey in a five-batter span in the sixth inning, the Cardinals matched their run production from the past three games combined. An announced crowd of 39,821 was on hand at Busch Stadium to see the Cardinals take their second series of the year from Cincinnati.

"I'll be the first to say that I don't think this offense is close to being where it's capable of being, and I know everybody in here agrees with that," Matt Carpenter said after his three-hit performance. "I think everybody will admit to it -- that nobody has really hit a huge stride here. It's going to come. We just have too many good hitters on this team that it's going to happen. When it does, it's going to be fun to watch."

Wednesday's production began with Carlos Beltran, who drilled a solo homer off Bailey to give the Cardinals an early one-run lead. It was Beltran's team-leading seventh homer of the season. And despite being bothered by the stomach flu for most of the homestand, he finished it 8-for-21.

"Right now, I feel like my legs are working. I feel like I'm solid at the plate," Beltran said. "When you feel solid, that translates into confidence as a hitter. You start seeing the baseball better. You start making better contact."

"He is the kind of hitter who can pick up a team, and if not carry them, get them going," manager Mike Matheny said. "You need that one guy to get the train going, and Carlos seems to be that guy a lot of times."

Beltran may have provided the first spark, but the fire was ignited en masse in the sixth. With the game even at 1, Bailey issued a one-out walk to Allen Craig; the Cardinals then followed with four consecutive singles to push three runs home. The team's Nos. 6-8 hitters -- Carpenter, Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso -- each drove in a run during the sequence.

It produced the largest inning output since the Cardinals scored four in the eighth on Friday and marked the first time since April 23 that the club had a string of four straight hits.

"I could tell [Bailey] had kind of worn down, because we battled him so well," Carpenter said. "We know what kind of offense we have, and I know that people are wondering what the matter is. But we know that we're going to keep grinding and things are going to work out for us."

The Cardinals had used a similar formula against Bailey before. In his April 10 start against St. Louis, Bailey opened with four scoreless innings before being ambushed for four runs in the fifth and another three in the sixth.

Wednesday's succession of singles knocked him out of the game and lifted Lance Lynn to his fifth win. Lynn, who started the 2012 season with wins in each of his first six starts, is the first National League pitcher to reach the five-win plateau this season. His 10-game winning streak dating back to last season is the longest active streak in the Majors.

"Homer was throwing the ball well early, and all I was thinking about was trying to match him," Lynn said. "Then our offense broke through. I did everything I could to keep it right there and give them a chance, and it worked out."

Lynn skirted trouble in the second by getting Bailey to ground out with the bases loaded. Through the next five innings, he gave up four hits. The only one to go for extra bases was Brandon Phillips' RBI double in the sixth that tied the game.

"He had a great mix of intensity, but being controlled still," Matheny said. "You could see his frustration [after Phillips' hit], but he let that go and got right back to the game plan."

Lynn responded by retiring five straight to complete his 110-pitch start.

Lynn, who also snapped an 0-for-52 skid at the plate with his fifth-inning single, has finished seven innings in each of his past three starts. In those 21 innings combined, Lynn has given up only two runs and eight hits. His ERA has dropped from 5.40 to 2.75 in the process.

The rotation's ERA continues to tick down, too. Twenty-seven games into the season, it now sits at 2.11. The Reds' rotation ranks second in the Majors with a 3.07 ERA.

"Our starting pitchers have really been the MVP of [the season], because they've really given us the opportunity to win ballgames," Beltran said. "They are really keeping us in the game."

The bullpen settled, too, after a mostly tumultuous showing against the Pirates during the first half of the homestand. Trevor Rosenthal didn't allow a hit in three appearances, including Wednesday's, during the six-game stretch. Edward Mujica's save to preserve Lynn's win moves him to 6-for-6 in save opportunities since assuming the role.

"The starters right now are doing pretty well," Mujica said. "The bullpen has had a rough time, but we're just trying to come in and get the starters the win."

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.