The St. Louis Cardinals are setting out on a pivotal road trip as they try to pad their lead atop the NL Central.
It appears they have the right pitcher to get off to a positive start.
The Cardinals (62-37) have plenty of momentum to begin their trek, sweeping three games from Philadelphia after a 3-1 victory that extended their winning streak to four. Lance Lynn pitched effectively for his 12th victory, making St. Louis' three-run third inning stand.
While this three-game set will pit division leaders against each other, eight games against the Cardinals' closest pursuers in the Central - Pittsburgh and Cincinnati - loom. St. Louis, a season-high 25 games over .500, will play five times in four days at PNC Park versus the second-place Pirates - 2 1/2 games back - following this series, but manager Mike Matheny refuses to look that far ahead.
"We'll jump on a plane, it will take us to the right place, and we'll end up at the right hotel and we're going to start studying the right team," he told the team's official website prior to Thursday's win. "Let's play them then. I just think if we got our heads too far into what's in front of us, you lose some of your focus on here and now.
"And we've got plenty of here and now."
While Wainwright (13-5, 2.44 ERA) has been uneven in his last two road starts - giving up four runs in each and not getting a decision in either - his eight-game winning streak is the longest active road run by an NL pitcher and best by a Cardinals hurler since Chris Carpenter reeled off 10 straight from July 5, 2009-June 23, 2010.
The right-hander got back on track Sunday versus San Diego, working in and out of trouble to limit the Padres - whose leadoff hitter reached base in seven of eight innings Wainwright pitched - to two runs in a 3-2 victory.
''He got tough with guys on base, no doubt about it,'' Padres manager Bud Black said. ''He's a veteran pitcher with a lot of know-how."
And Wainwright knows how to pitch at Turner Field, winning all three of his starts there with a 2.57 ERA, but this will be his first appearance in Atlanta since 2010. The Braves reached him for five runs and nine hits with five walks in 4 1-3 innings in a 7-2 victory May 12, 2012, ending Wainwright's six-start win streak against them.
Atlanta (57-45) has a comfortable eight-game cushion atop the NL East but settled for a split of its four-game series with the Mets following a 7-4 defeat Thursday. Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman each homered for the Braves, but a missed call on David Wright's triple - replays showed it should have been a ground-rule double - keyed a three-run Mets rally in the sixth and the ejection of manager Fredi Gonzalez.
''I don't think I needed a replay to know I was right,'' Gonzalez said.
Mike Minor (9-5, 2.98) will try to avoid losing consecutive starts for the first time this season as Atlanta opens a seven-game homestand. The left-hander threw a five-hitter in a 3-1 road loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday for his first complete game.
Minor, who has no record with a 9.31 ERA in two lifetime starts versus St. Louis, has struggled against Carlos Beltran, who is 4 for 7 with two doubles, a triple and a homer in this matchup.
Uggla, who has homered in his last two games, is 4 for 22 with a double, home run and seven strikeouts lifetime versus Wainwright.
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