ST. LOUIS -- The Padres had already reeled off four straight series victories when they arrived in St. Louis this week. After a rough start to the season, there was no denying they'd been playing better baseball.But somehow, this three-game set felt more significant. Their recent success had come mostly
ST. LOUIS -- The Padres had already reeled off four straight series victories when they arrived in St. Louis this week. After a rough start to the season, there was no denying they'd been playing better baseball.
But somehow, this three-game set felt more significant. Their recent success had come mostly against last-place clubs. The Cardinals would offer a valuable test, the likes of which the Padres hadn't seen lately.
They passed it with flying colors. The Friars strolled into St. Louis and took two of three, culminating with Wednesday's 4-2 victory at Busch Stadium. San Diego has won 11 of 15, and has won five consecutive series for the first time since 2010.
"If you look around at all the good teams, they're thinking about winning series," said center fielder Manuel Margot. "That's something we should be thinking about, too. We've got a good team."
Margot led the charge on Wednesday night, and in some ways, his redemption story has mirrored his team's. The 23-year-old center fielder got off to a dreadful start. But he began turning things around a few weeks ago, and he's playing his best baseball of the season right now.
Margot went 3-for-4 with an RBI triple in the sixth inning, marking his second consecutive multi-hit night. Then, in the eighth, Tommy Pham hit a rocket into the right-center-field gap, and Margot ranged to his left to make a spectacular diving grab. The Cardinals wouldn't threaten after that.
"He seems to be finding his footing right now," said Padres skipper Andy Green. "It's fun to watch him play the game. That was a tremendous catch. … It does seem like his game is all clicking together at this point."
Three weeks ago, Margot's average cratered to .189. After an impressive 2017 season in which he finished sixth in National League Rookie of the Year Award voting, the Padres began a complete overhaul of his swing mechanics. Something needed to change.
Margot's center of gravity shifted backward. His over-aggressive lunge was no more. It's paid major dividends. The outfielder has since boosted his average by 46 points. The Padres, meanwhile, are within four games of .500.
"We've needed him all year," Green said. "It's great to see."
Padres left-hander Eric Lauer was excellent for five innings, before the Cardinals got to him in the sixth. Lauer scattered eight hits and allowed two runs -- both coming on Marcell Ozuna's two-run blast.
It was an impressive bounceback effort from Lauer, who suffered his worst start as a Padre against these same Cardinals on May 11. That night, he faced 14 hitters, allowing four homers and six runs.
"From the get-go, I felt comfortable," Lauer said. "It was more of a mental adjustment. … I don't have to press. I don't have to make my pitches nastier. As long as I get back to how I threw all the way through college and my Minor League career, that's enough to get these guys out."
Indeed, Lauer's progress was on full display Wednesday night. So was Margot's.
The Padres' progress has been on display for two straight weeks.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Galvis gets it started: San Diego's .286 batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position is the best mark in baseball. Freddy Galvis continued that trend in the top of the first inning. The veteran shortstop smoked a first-pitch fastball from Cardinals right-hander Luke Weaver over the head of Pham in center. He cruised into second with a two-run double and a 2-0 Padres lead.
What a relief: Lauer exited with two outs in the sixth and the tying run at the plate. Yairo Munoz didn't stand a chance against Jose Castillo. These days, no one does. Castillo threw two sliders below the zone that Munoz chased, before getting him looking on a 94 mph fastball. The rookie left-hander would strike out the side in order in the seventh. Castillo has now faced 14 batters since he was called up from Triple-A El Paso last month. Nine have struck out, none has walked and only one has a hit.
The Padres did not allow a walk in St. Louis this week. It marked the first time in franchise history they've gone three straight games without walking a single batter.
"That's a lot of strikes, and that's us being competitive," Lauer said. "We're making sure that we're throwing the ball over the plate, but we're still making good pitches."
The last walk by a Padres pitcher came Sunday when Clayton Richard put Justin Bour on base in the seventh inning. (At the time, Richard was working on a no-hitter.) That's a span of 28 innings without issuing a walk -- four shy of the franchise's all-time mark, set in 1971.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Another game, another pickoff for Lauer. He wasted no time, either. Harrison Bader led off the first inning with a single, and two pitches later, Lauer erased him with a quick step to first. Lauer leads the Majors with seven pickoffs this year, and he's only the fifth pitcher in history to record one in five straight games. Only Andy Pettitte has ever exceeded five games. (His streak reached eight with the Yankees in 1997.)
The last six times the Padres have sent Tyson Ross to the mound, they've won. On Thursday in Atlanta, they'll look to make it seven. Ross hasn't been as sharp of late, but he's still been rock solid. He should be fresh, too, having thrown 91 pitches or fewer in his past three starts. The Braves counter with veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez, with first pitch slated for 4:35 p.m. PT.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.