Coming off a successful homestand, the St. Louis Cardinals are full of confidence heading into a road trip against some of the best teams in the NL.
Looking for a fourth consecutive victory, the Cardinals' first stop comes Friday night in Cincinnati, where they'll try to avoid a fifth straight defeat to the Central-leading Reds.
St. Louis (68-56) scored 24 runs to sweep lowly Houston in a three-game set that concluded a 6-3 homestand. Owners of the NL's second wild-card spot, the Cardinals pounded out 17 hits in a 13-5 win Thursday.
"This team, they get the blood in the water and they can pile them on,'' said manager Mike Matheny, whose team is batting an NL-best .275.
Matheny hopes his club can continue to produce in Cincinnati (76-50), then at fellow contender Pittsburgh for three games before finishing the trip with four versus NL-leading Washington. While the Reds own a seven-game division lead over second-place St. Louis, the Pirates trail the Cardinals by one in the wild-card standings.
"A very big road trip, there's no doubt about that,'' Matheny said. "We need to string them together, that's all there is to it.''
Winning just one game against the Reds has been tough for the reigning World Series champs of late. Though the Cardinals were swept in a three-game series at Cincinnati from July 13-15, two were decided by two runs and the other by one.
"I can't wait to play them," Matheny told the Cardinals' official website. "You look at how close that series was, it certainly could have gone three games the other (way) for us."
Matheny likely will need some of his hottest hitters to remain that way this weekend.
Allen Craig is batting .417 (20 for 48) during a 12-game hitting streak, but is 1 for 18 in his career versus Cincinnati. Outfielder Jon Jay is 10 for 22 in the last four games following an 0-for-9 slump, but has hit .167 (4 for 24) at Great American Ball Park in 2012.
Lance Lynn (13-5, 3.73 ERA) makes his first start versus Cincinnati after posting a 2.25 ERA in three relief appearances against the Reds last season.
The right-hander has enjoyed a stellar first full season in the majors but has a 6.49 ERA in his last five starts after going 2-0 with a 0.47 ERA in his previous three. Lynn allowed three runs, three walks and struck out eight in 4 1-3 innings of a 5-4 win over the Pirates on Saturday.
Cincinnati counters with Mat Latos (10-3, 3.56), who is 1-3 with a 9.75 ERA in five starts versus St. Louis. He's allowed 10 runs and walked six over 10 2-3 innings while going 0-1 against the Cardinals in 2012.
The right-hander yielded one run over 21 1-3 in his previous three outings before he gave up four - two earned - in eight innings of a 5-4 walkoff win over Chicago on Sunday.
The Reds settled for a split of a four-game set at Philadelphia after falling 4-3 in 11 innings Thursday. Todd Frazier had three RBIs and one of Cincinnati's six hits.
Frazier is batting .444 with five homers and 16 RBIs in his last 15 games, though he may be relegated to the bench with Joey Votto slated to return soon. Frazier's only hit in seven at-bats versus St. Louis this season left the park.
Ex-Cardinal Ryan Ludwick has hit .358 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in his last 15 home contests, but is 2 for 15 with a homer against his former club at Great American Ball Park in 2012.