The St. Louis Cardinals began a daunting 11-game trip leading the NL Central.
They'll enter the final stretch of that trek hoping not to lose any more ground in the division standings.
After snapping their longest slide of the season, the Cardinals try to continue their recent success against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.
St. Louis (63-44) held a 2 1/2-game division lead when the trip began in Atlanta last Friday. However, the Cardinals totaled three runs during a three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves, then dropped the first four at Pittsburgh before ending their seven-game skid with a 13-0 rout of the Pirates on Thursday.
The Cardinals trail Pittsburgh by 1 1/2 games after Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Tony Cruz each had two RBIs in helping the club confidently exhale for the moment.
"(Thursday) was a good sign for our team,'' said Craig, who went 3 for 9 the last two games after suffering through an 0-for-22 slump. "There was no panic. We brought a lot of energy.
"You hate to go into lulls like we did because we've played so well all season long but I think this game should get us going again.''
St. Louis has won six of nine against the Reds (60-49) this season, and scored 22 runs while taking two of three at Great American Ballpark in June.
Craig, however, is 1 for 14 against Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo (9-8, 3.36 ERA), who is 0-3 with a 4.13 ERA in his last four starts against the Cardinals.
He's 0-2 with a 3.79 ERA in three starts this season versus St. Louis, with five of the eight runs he allowed coming on home runs by Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Matt Adams.
A lifetime .344 hitter with two homers against Arroyo, Beltran is 8 for 22 with two home runs in his last five games versus Cincinnati.
The right-hander gave up a run over 16 innings to win two straight starts before he yielded three in 5 1-3 innings of a 4-1 loss at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.
Owners of the NL's second wild-card spot, the Reds snapped a five-game losing streak by ending a 5-6 trip with a 4-1 victory at San Diego on Wednesday. Cincinnati, which has scored nine runs over its last six contests, is 5 1/2 games back of the Pirates and four behind the Cardinals in the Central.
"From the won-loss standpoint, we've been pretty good," Arroyo told the Reds' official website. 'We have to turn it up another notch to keep up with those guys.
"If we don't beat those guys, they're not going to lose enough games elsewhere for us to catch them."
First baseman Joey Votto is batting .375 against the Cardinals this season but he's 0 for 2 against St. Louis starter Shelby Miller (10-7, 2.79 ERA). The right-hander allowed just one hit and struck out seven in six innings of a 1-0 victory over Cincinnati in the final regular-season game of 2012.
Miller held the Phillies to three hits over six scoreless innings in a 4-1 win July 23, but gave up three runs over 5 2-3 in a 5-2 loss at Atlanta on Sunday.
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