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AP - Sports

Lance Lynn and Mike Minor may be among the NL leaders in wins, but they're both seeking improvement.

Success from Lynn could be just what the St. Louis Cardinals need to gain sole possession of the NL Central lead.

Lynn attempts to avoid a fourth straight start without a win, while Minor attempts to rebound from the shortest outing of his career in Sunday's finale of this four-game set with the Cardinals and Atlanta Braves.

Lynn (13-7, 3.97 ERA) is following up his career-best 18-win season with another impressive one, while Minor (12-5, 3.06) has set a personal-best in wins and his 145 strikeouts match his career high from last year.

Both pitchers are playing a key role in St. Louis and Atlanta, respectively, bidding to return to the postseason.

The Cardinals (76-53) are tied with Pittsburgh atop the Central, while the Braves (7-52) are comfortably leading the East by 12 games on second-place Washington.

St. Louis has surged into the dead heat by winning seven of eight games, including the first three of this series following Saturday's 6-2 victory.

Despite Lynn and Minor ranking among the league leaders in wins, both have struggled of late.

Lynn is 0-2 with a 5.50 ERA over his last three starts, losing his most recent 6-3 at Milwaukee on Tuesday. He allowed six runs and nine hits in six innings, but five of those runs came in the fifth.

"When you have that kind of stuff and you give up five runs on all singles - they don't get any extra-base hits - it's tough to swallow," Lynn told the team's official website.

He's split his two career starts with Atlanta last year, allowing five runs with 15 strikeouts in 13 innings.

Minor has won three straight decisions over his last five starts. However, he's scheduled to take the mound for the first time since Aug. 17, when he was battered for four runs while issuing four walks before getting pulled with two outs in the second inning of an 8-7 loss to Washington.

The left-hander has a 2.73 ERA over his last four road outings, but is 0-1 thanks in large part to being backed by an average of 2.4 runs.

He was hit hard in his only visit to Busch Stadium, surrendering three home runs among his six runs and eight hits with seven strikeouts in 4 2-3 innings of a 9-7 victory.

Minor, though, was superb against the Cardinals on July 26, outpitching Adam Wainwright while yielding one run in seven innings of a 4-1 win.

The Braves may need another gem from Minor since they've totaled five runs while batting .220 in this series.

"It's a combination of tough pitching and we're not swinging it really well," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Sometimes you run into a hot team like they are right now."

Freddie Freeman can't be blamed for Atlanta's recent offensive issues. The All-Star first baseman is 13 for 30 (.433) with two homers and five RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak.

He has four hits in this series after hitting a solo shot Saturday.

The Cardinals are getting strong production from Carlos Beltran and Matt Carpenter. Beltran is 13 for 27 (.481) with three homers and six RBIs in six games, while Carpenter has a .459 average with 11 runs in the past eight contests at home.

That success may only continue since Beltran is 4 for 10 with two doubles, a triple and a homer off Minor, and Carpenter has a double and a homer in five at-bats.

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