After nearly a week's worth of offensive futility, all finally seems right with the St. Louis Cardinals.
They face a stern test trying to pile up runs for a third straight game Saturday night against Tony Cingrani and the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cardinals (64-44) fell out of first place in the NL Central during a season-worst seven-game losing streak in which they totaled 10 runs while batting .183 with 59 strikeouts in 235 at_bats. St. Louis avoided a five-game sweep to Pittsburgh - which overtook it atop the division - with a 13-0 whitewashing on Thursday before continuing its rampage Friday at Great American Ball Park with a 13-3 rout of the Reds.
"Our guys put so much pressure on themselves,' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after his team pulled within one-half game of the Pirates. "They're perfectionists. It was frustrating for a quite a few days. It was good to see some energy. I hope we can keep riding it.'
Far and away the majors' best team hitting with runners in scoring position (.337), St. Louis has gone 13 for 28 in such situations in its back-to-back wins after going 10 for 47 during its skid. Allen Craig went 2 for 2 in those instances Friday, boosting his major league-leading average to .476 (50 for 105), and also added a two-run homer.
Cingrani (4-1, 2.90 ERA) will try to hold down Craig and the Cardinals and continue his solid run. The rookie is 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA in five starts since rejoining the rotation last month, striking out 33 in 30 1-3 innings while holding opponents to a .163 batting average.
The left-hander, though, had nothing to show for the best start of his career Sunday at Chavez Ravine, holding the Dodgers to one hit and one walk over seven innings while matching a season high with 11 strikeouts in Cincinnati's 1-0, 11-inning defeat.
"I don't really care about my win-loss record. I'd rather just get a win," he told the team's official website. "I had my fastball working. I was just moving it, basically, up and in the whole time. I threw some good sliders. It was a good day."
Cingrani's only appearance versus St. Louis came in a relief role to close out last year as he gave up two hits and one walk in two-thirds of an inning.
Cincinnati (60-50) knows all about offensive struggles, having scored only 12 runs and hit .178 while losing six of seven. Joey Votto accounted for the offense Friday night with a three-run homer, and he has driven in five of the Reds' seven runs the past two games.
Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook (7-5, 3.18) wouldn't object to another offensive outburst as he seeks his third win in four starts. The right-hander's career-long struggles in Pittsburgh continued Monday, when he gave up a three-run homer to Pedro Alvarez and four first-inning runs in his first 10 pitches of a five-inning stint in a 9-2 loss that dropped him to 0-6 there.
Westbrook threw a five-hitter against the Reds on April 10 for his fourth career shutout in a 10-0 romp. Chris Heisey is 6 for 16 with three solo homers against Westbrook, while Votto is 5 for 15 with two doubles.
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