MIAMI -- If the Cardinals can parlay this resurgent stretch into a surprising postseason push, whether they end up playing in October or not, they'll have plenty of benchmarks to look to when pinpointing exactly where their season turned around. The most telling might be July 27.That day, after a
MIAMI -- If the Cardinals can parlay this resurgent stretch into a surprising postseason push, whether they end up playing in October or not, they'll have plenty of benchmarks to look to when pinpointing exactly where their season turned around. The most telling might be July 27.
That day, after a flurry of moves revamped their roster, the Cardinals began stringing together wins behind the formula they followed again in Wednesday night's 7-1 victory over the Marlins at Marlins Park.
Play strong defense behind a young starting pitcher. Deploy the bullpen aggressively. And wait for Matt Carpenter to homer. The last part being the most constant theme.
"If Carp doesn't hit a home run, I'm not sure if we can win," Paul DeJong said after the Cardinals rallied to take two of three in the series. "Who knows how many he can hit in  more games?"
It was behind Carpenter's fifth home run in six games -- and second go-ahead blast in as many nights -- that St. Louis captured its fourth straight series win to remain very much relevant in the NL Wild Card race. The Cardinals are 9-4 in that stretch, during which Carpenter has turned the absurd into his own nightly reality. He now has 31 home runs, two more than Nolan Arenado for the NL lead. He has reached base in a career-high 27 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the Majors.
"We're in a good spot as a group," Carpenter said. "We've got a tough road ahead. It's not going to be easy to sneak into the postseason. But you can't ask for anything better than what we've been able to accomplish these last couple weeks."
The same could be said of their leadoff hitter who, in a normal year, might be enjoying a season-best stretch. Carpenter has hit .356 over the last 12 games, as the Cardinals have taken series from the Cubs, Rockies, Pirates and Marlins. The difference between this one and his scorching July stretch, when Carpenter homered in six straight games? The Cardinals only won half of those contests.
"He's doing his thing, and we'll do our best to keep doing ours," Wednesday's starter John Gant said. "You can feel a little more team camaraderie. We're taking steps in the right direction, and the atmosphere is great."
This time, Carpenter helped make a winner of Gant, who fired six efficient innings of one-run ball. Gant was only at 63 pitches when interim manager Mike Shildt pulled him, opting to play matchups an inning after Carpenter's homer off Trevor Richards gave St. Louis a lead. Chasen Shreve, Dakota Hudson and Mike Mayers then combined with Gant to retire 21 consecutive Marlins, while the Cardinals added four runs over the final two frames.
"[Gant] could have thrown a few more innings, but the reality is we had a chance to hit, open the game up a little bit," Shildt said. "And we have guys in the pen who are fresh who we trust."
Hudson has been particularly important to the turnaround in the bullpen, which owns a sub-2 ERA over its past 12 games. The rookie-right hander is unscored upon across his first 8 2/3 Major League innings.
"We're absolutely headed in the right direction," Shildt said. "We're playing good baseball across the board."
The Cardinals' first run came on a Yadier Molina solo homer in the first. It marked career home run No. 141 for Molina, passing Bill White for 14th in franchise history. Molina needs five more to reach Enos Slaughter on that list.
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
After the game, Harrison Bader made light of a laceration he sustained above his right eye during an awkward slide in the eighth. Bader was attended to by trainers after slipping while stealing second base, but he remained in the game.
"I'm good," Bader said. "It's not going to be good for my off-the-field life, though."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
A half-inning after he doubled home two runs, DeJong took a hit away from former teammate Magneuris Sierra with a dazzling play up the middle. DeJong left his feet to snag Sierra's liner off Hudson, which appeared earmarked for center field.
"I was a couple steps in on Sierra because I know he can run," DeJong said. "Honestly, that might be one of the best plays I've ever made in the field, so I was pretty excited about that one."
HE SAID IT
"It surprises me I'm able to do what I'm doing, but at the same time, I've put in the work to get to it. It's not like I've rubbed some magic ball and it's happening. I've put in tons of hours to be a good hitter, and I'm reaping some really good benefits right now." -- Carpenter, on his torrid stretch
The Cardinals will enter the second leg of the annual I-70 Series winners of four straight series and five games over .500 for the first time since late June. Austin Gomber (1-0, 4.10) gets the ball when they rekindle their cross-state rivalry with the Royals at 7:15 p.m. CT on Friday at Kauffman Stadium, following Thursday's off-day. Right-hander Burch Smith (1-3, 6.41) counters for Kansas City. The Royals took two of three from the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in May.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.