ATLANTA -- The overall numbers may not match up to what Paul DeJong did a year ago while emerging as one of the Majors' top rookie performers. His impact, however, still resonates.On a night when the Cardinals were otherwise handcuffed by Anibal Sanchez, DeJong tagged the Braves starter for a
ATLANTA -- The overall numbers may not match up to what Paul DeJong did a year ago while emerging as one of the Majors' top rookie performers. His impact, however, still resonates.
On a night when the Cardinals were otherwise handcuffed by Anibal Sanchez, DeJong tagged the Braves starter for a two-run blast and finished with a three-RBI night to help generate an 8-1 victory at SunTrust Park on Tuesday. The win further strengthened the Cardinals' hold on the National League's second Wild Card berth and pulled them to within two games of the Brewers for the top spot in that race. Three of St. Louis' remaining 10 games will be against Milwaukee.
The club has followed a four-game losing streak with three consecutive wins.
"Obviously, it was a tough weekend at home, not what we were looking forward to," starter Austin Gomber said. "We're still in it. We still think we can win the division. And we're just going out every night trying to win games."
The Cardinals trail the Cubs, who won on Tuesday, by 5 1/2 games in the NL Central. With the loss, the Braves have a 5 1/2-game lead in the East, their magic number at seven after the Phillies defeated the Mets.
For DeJong, a sophomore season interrupted by injury and complicated by issues with his timing has given way to a quietly productive second half. Even though his batting average has dipped, he has shown a knack for timeliness with his hits. His 43 RBIs since the All-Star break rank second in the NL, behind only Christian Yelich and Michael Conforto.
On Tuesday, DeJong erased Atlanta's early advantage by lining a 402-foot home run off Sanchez. He then drove in the first of the Cardinals' four eighth-inning insurance runs, the final flurry of which scored on a bases-loaded hit by Yadier Molina.
DeJong improved to 11-for-23 with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in five career games against the Braves.
"You love the kind of at-bats he can take," manager Mike Shildt said. "And now he's starting to string them together. The good thing about Paul is he knows what kind of player he is, what kind of player he can still be. And we're seeing a version of Paul DeJong that we all expect."
DeJong's presence as the three-hole hitter may become permanent, too, as the Cardinals continue to search for that optimal look atop their lineup. Since returning to the spot over the weekend, DeJong has scored six runs, driven in five and crushed two home runs. The Cardinals are averaging seven runs a game over the four-game stretch.
"I think he's bearing out that he's a run producer," Shildt said. "If you look back to last year, we had some more stability in our lineup with him hitting third. The guy has the ability to drive in runs, so it's a good spot for him."
His boost on Tuesday helped make a winner out of Gomber, who limited the Braves to one run, on a Ronald Acuna Jr. homer, over five innings. Gomber otherwise tiptoed around trouble, stranding nine runners before handing the game over to the bullpen.
"I threw a lot of pitches in five innings," Gomber said after his 98-pitch performance. "I didn't even realize I had thrown that many pitches. Just one of those days where there was a lot of traffic on the bases, but you have to figure out a way to get out of it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Molina provided critical breathing room with a two-out, bases-loaded single in the eighth that prevented Shildt from having to reluctantly call on Carlos Martinez for a third straight day. Shildt had already gambled by pinch-hitting for reliever Jordan Hicks -- who was scripted to pitch two innings -- ahead of Molina. Patrick Wisdom struck out.
• Hicks struck out Albies on a 100-mph sinker
But Molina ensured something would be salvaged from the run-scoring opportunity by knocking a two-run single to left. An error by Acuna allowed a third run to score. Molina has driven in seven in the team's last three wins.
The Cardinals' eight-game winning streak in Atlanta is the second longest since the Braves moved their franchise there in 1966. The Cardinals reeled off 11 straight victories in Atlanta during the 1967-68 seasons.
HE SAID IT
"This is a good club here. They are kind of like we were going on our last road trip. They had a tough home series. Now they're coming on the road and finding themselves." -- Braves manager Brian Snitker
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Cardinals requested a crew chief review of a play at the plate in the fifth inning in which Kolten Wong was tagged out trying to score on Gomber's safety squeeze. In question was whether Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki blocked Wong's path to the plate. A 23-second review confirmed that Suzuki was taken in that direction by Sanchez's flip to the plate. Wong became the second out of the frame.
The Cardinals will close out their series at SunTrust Park on Wednesday with a 11:10 a.m. CT game against the Braves. Rookie Jack Flaherty, who is in line to start the Wild Card Game should the Cardinals advance, will make his penultimate start of the regular season against Atlanta's Touki Toussaint. This will be Flaherty's first career start against the Braves.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, and Facebook.