By Alaina Getzenberg and Jenifer Langosch
ST. LOUIS -- The race for a National League Central title continues to inch closer to a climax, and Tuesday brought no added separation among the three teams jostling for the top spot. The Cardinals kept pace with the victorious Cubs and Brewers by pounding the Reds, 13-4, to open a three-game series at Busch Stadium.
With the win, the Cardinals remain two games behind the Cubs and a half-game ahead of the Brewers. St. Louis is also 3 1/2 games back of the Rockies for the second NL Wild Card spot.
"At this point, if we keep winning, we'll be fine," Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong said after the team reeled off its 10th win in 12 games. "At the end of the day, it's going to come down to the games in the division. We're going to have to beat the Central opponents down the stretch."
The Cardinals jumped all over Reds starter Robert Stephenson, who was chased after allowing six runs (four earned) on five hits and three walks in three innings. Two-out RBI extra-base hits by Yadier Molina, Tommy Pham and Paul DeJong helped the Cardinals build a 5-1 lead through two innings.
"Those are huge," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of the two-out runs. "We talk about those big hits and those are usually in those two-out situations where somebody comes through for us after we didn't necessarily get it done before that. Just a relentless offense."
DeJong finished the night with three hits. Molina tallied three RBIs, bringing his total over the last three games to 10. And Matt Carpenter reached base five times from the leadoff spot, as St. Louis scored in six different innings and plated multiple runs in five of those frames.
The run support was a welcome sight for starter Lance Lynn, whose last five starts had all ended as losses for the club despite Lynn's 2.18 ERA during that span. He wasn't as sharp on Tuesday, allowing four runs (three earned) before being removed after throwing 73 pitches in five innings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Cozart giveth and taketh away: After providing the Reds a quick 1-0 lead with a first-inning homer, Reds shortstop Zack Cozart gave that run (and another) right back with a throwing error in the bottom half of the inning. His errant throw to second base on a potential double-play turn left two runners on for Molina, who delivered a two-out, two-run double into the left-field corner. It was the first of five consecutive two-out runs the Cardinals would score to build their early lead.
Walk this way: Carpenter helped start or extend three of the Cardinals' run-scoring innings with walks. Carpenter actually drew a free pass in each of his first four plate appearances, becoming the first Cardinal to walk that many times in a nine-inning game since Colby Rasmus in 2010. Carpenter, who led the National League with 94 walks in 2014, has now drawn 98 this season. He scored a pair of runs on Tuesday.
"[He] hasn't necessarily had the hits in the bulk amount he'd like to have, but you still look up there and his on-base [percentage], his slugging [percentage] ... I don't know what more you'd ask of him when you look at the whole body of work," Matheny said of Carpenter. "He's done a real nice job."
"What's the old cliché? It's not how you start, it's how you finish. It took us a while to get out of the gate." -- Lynn, on the club moving a season-best eight games above .500
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Cozart not only secured his first career 20-homer season with his solo shot on Tuesday, but he also gave the Reds six players with at least 20 homers for the first time in franchise history. The Reds are the 25th team in Major League history to accomplish the feat and the third this season, joining the Orioles and Cubs.
Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett exited the game in the fifth inning with left hand inflammation. The injury was caused when he jammed his hand, causing the webbing between his thumb and index finger to become inflamed. He had originally jammed his hand a few times in the Reds recent against the Mets. The Reds will know more Wednesday how much time, if any, he will miss. Gennett was replaced in the lineup by Jose Peraza. More >>
"Today I got jammed again and then fouled a few pitches off that were lower on the bat and [it] just kind of my hand kind of jammed up a little bit," Gennett said. "Whenever I know I'm not right, when I can feel my barrel kind of drop a little bit, I've learned to be honest with myself and not try to be a hero."
WHAT'S NEXT Reds:Tyler Mahle (0-2, 3.60 ERA) will look for his first win when he takes the mound for the fourth time in his Major League career on Wednesday vs. the Cardinals at 8:15 p.m. ET. In his last start, Mahle allowed three runs in four innings of a 7-2 loss to the Mets.
Cardinals:Jack Flaherty will make his third career start on Wednesday when the Cardinals continue their three-game series against the Reds. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CT. Flaherty limited the Padres to one run on three hits in a five-inning start his last time out.