After enduring dreadful mid-season slumps in each of the past two years, Lance Lynn is determined to not let history repeat itself in 2014.
The right-hander looks to give St. Louis his second strong showing since the All-Star break Wednesday night as the Cardinals try to deny the visiting Tampa Bay Rays a seventh straight victory.
Lynn (11-6, 3.13 ERA) has been one of the top early-season pitchers for St. Louis (54-46) over the past three years, going a combined 32-14 with a 3.52 ERA prior to the All-Star break.
But he's struggled following the break in each of the previous two campaigns, posting a 5.23 ERA in eight starts before he was removed from the rotation in 2012 and going 2-6 with a 5.10 mark over his first 10 last season.
As a result, Lynn entered 2014 with designs on maintaining his stamina over the entire year. He took a step toward that goal Friday, when he held the Los Angeles Dodgers scoreless for six innings before giving up two runs and departing in the seventh of a 3-2 victory.
He finished with nine strikeouts and improved to 4-1 with a 1.62 ERA in his last five home starts.
"I think the experience has been a good teacher for him," manager Mike Matheny told MLB's official website. "Physically, I think he's strong right now. Mentally, I think he realizes how quick this can slip if you start to back off at all."
Lynn has a chance to tie for the major league lead in victories after posting a 1.86 ERA while winning his last three outings. He allowed three runs in one inning of relief in his only meeting with Tampa Bay in July 2011.
Matt Joyce hit a two-run home run off him in that contest, while James Loney is 2 for 3 lifetime in the matchup. Joyce and Loney had two hits apiece Tuesday as Tampa Bay (48-53) topped Adam Wainwright in a series-opening 7-2 win.
The Rays, who have won 15 of 19, have outscored their opponents 36-11 during a season-best six-game winning streak.
"It does feel like it's September to me, because we dug ourselves such a big hole," said manager Joe Maddon, whose club is still eight games back in the AL East. "Our goal is to get out of it, obviously, and then do something nobody has ever done before us."
Alex Cobb (5-6, 4.08) looks to win his fourth consecutive decision overall and fifth in a row on the road in Wednesday's finale. He allowed two runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 6-2 win at Minnesota on Friday.
The right-hander will make his first career start against the Cardinals, who have totaled 14 runs while going 3 for 33 with runners in scoring position over their last five games.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has been a bright spot with a .400 average over his last 10 games, but he's hitless with four strikeouts in six career at-bats versus Cobb.
Matt Carpenter went 2 for 4 on Tuesday with his first home run since June 28 after going 2 for 21 with seven strikeouts in his previous six contests. Matt Holliday, who also homered, has hit .357 with three long balls and eight RBIs in his last nine.