ST. LOUIS -- Allen Craig didn't start for just the fourth time in 73 games this season. But with a chance to blow Thursday night's game open, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny called on his leading RBI man.
Pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Lance Lynn, Craig delivered a two-run single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth inning as the Cardinals posted a 6-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium.
Lynn (10-1) allowed just three hits and one run over six innings to join teammate Adam Wainwright and Washington's Jordan Zimmermann as the National League's only 10-game winners.
Lynn fanned six and walked two, improving his career mark against Chicago to 5-1.
Leading 2-1 as the sixth inning started, St. Louis (47-26) got a leadoff homer from Matt Holliday, his 11th of the year. The Cardinals then loaded the bases with two outs, and Matheny hooked Lynn for the .310-hitting Craig.
"It wasn't an easy decision," Matheny said. "Lance was pitching well and with the off-days we had coming up, I wanted to stretch him out a little bit. But it was only a 3-1 game and it felt a lot closer.
"When you have an Allen Craig on your bench in that situation, you've got to use him."
After working a full count against reliever Hector Rondon, Craig flicked an outside fastball into right field, scoring Yadier Molina and David Freese to give him 55 RBIs. Craig is hitting a whopping .431 with runners in scoring position.
"I don't do anything differently with runners on base than with the bases empty," Craig said. "I don't think I'm focusing any less when no one's on base. I just think that's the way things have worked out."
Matt Carpenter tacked on an RBI single to cap the four-run outburst as St. Louis kept its lead in the NL Central at three games over second-place Pittsburgh and 3 1/2 on third-place Cincinnati.
St. Louis took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second against Scott Feldman (6-6) on Freese's groundout that scored Molina. Molina had walked to start the inning and moved to third on Matt Adams' double to center.
Chicago (29-42) answered immediately in the third as Welington Castillo launched a first-pitch fastball from Lynn over the wall in deep left-center. It was just Castillo's second homer of the year.
The Cubs finished with only five hits and scored a measly eight runs in the series.
"We're just not hitting the ball," manager Dale Sveum said.
The Cardinals regained the lead in their half of the third on Holliday's RBI single, which skidded off and under the glove of shortstop Starlin Castro to score Carpenter from second.
In the fifth, the Cubs filled the bases with two outs, but Lynn wriggled out of trouble when he got Castro to foul out to Molina. Lynn got ahead 1-2 and then made the slumping Castro, who's in an 11-of-85 skid, play the chase game.
"I wasn't going to throw him a strike until I had to," Lynn said. "He's the type of hitter who will chase a pitch out of the zone. Looking back on it, that was the big out of the game. They really didn't threaten after that."
Lynn's outing was a 180-degree turn from his 13-7 win in Miami on Saturday, when he allowed nine hits and seven runs over five innings. His teammates have averaged a league-best 6.8 runs in his 15 starts, but Lynn is now 28-8 since the start of 2012.
"Maybe it's luck, I don't know," he said. "But I'd rather be known as a winner than a loser."
Thanks to his manager's decision to pull him early for Craig, Lynn was once again a winner. NOTES: St. Louis RHP Chris Carpenter, who hasn't pitched this year due to a balky right shoulder, has experienced back pain this week. It's kept him from facing hitters or throwing as he tries to rehabilitate for a possible minor league assignment this summer ... When Chicago LF Alfonso Soriano belts his next homer, it will be the 380th of his career, moving him out of a tie for 64th all time with Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez ... Trevor Rosenthal's two strikeouts in the eighth inning Wednesday night marked the 25th multi-strikeout game in 53 games, the most by any Cardinals reliever in the first 53 games of his career.