Led by a surging offense and a solid outing by Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals made it eight in a row on Saturday night with a 6-5 victory over the Braves at Busch Stadium. With the win and the Cubs' 6-2 loss to the D-backs, the Cardinals are in a virtual tie for first place in the NL Central with Chicago after being 5 1/2 games back less than two weeks ago.
St. Louis extended its season-long winning streak to eight and took the series win despite a comeback attempt by the Braves in the ninth inning. The Cardinals have won all five of their games against the Braves this season.
"They take advantage of everything you don't do right," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You pay for every little mistake. It's a hot team, and you have to make pitches, make plays, do everything right in order to beat a club like this right now."
Atlanta looked to be in command of the game early, establishing a two-run lead in the first. The Cardinals responded quickly, however, scoring a run in the each of the first two innings, including a game-tying solo homer by Randal Grichuk, his 15th of the year.
"They're fighting their way through. Grichuk, that's one of the best two-strike at-bats he's taken," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We talk about learning and guys getting better, and that's something he didn't do early in the season. I watch all our guys getting to a better place."
The Redbirds' offense kicked into high gear in the fourth inning, taking a commanding three-run lead after Lucas Sims hit two batters and gave up three hits. Sims finished his third career start after 5 1/3 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 10 hits.
"They took advantage of the mistakes," Sims said. "I didn't execute as good as I could have. They are swinging the bat pretty well right now."
Brandon Phillips responded with a solo home run in the fifth to bring the Braves within two. But once again the Cardinals responded when Paul DeJong hit his team-leading 17th home run. The three-run deficit looked to be insurmountable until Trevor Rosenthal gave up two runs in the ninth. The closer held on, however, to earn his seventh straight save.
Martinez gave up three runs on seven hits in six innings, with seven strikeouts, to earn his ninth win.
"It wasn't like he was spraying the ball; he had one walk," Matheny said. "Besides that, they were getting balls on the ground, finding holes, and I thought [Martinez] did a nice job of holding his composure."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Tsunami makes waves: The Cardinals' offense got a huge boost in the fourth inning. With one out and a runner on third, Martinez assisted his own cause by hitting an RBI single that extended the inning. He also had an impressive dash to home plate from second on Tommy Pham's RBI single to score the third run of the inning and give the Cardinals a three-run lead.
"I'm definitely working on my batting, and if I can add support that way to the team, it's definitely what I'm going to do," Martinez said through an interpreter. "Every time I get to bat, I do the best that I can, in any situation."
A close save: Rosenthal got himself in a dicey situation when a single, error and walk loaded the bases in the ninth with two outs. The Braves then got two runs across on a single by Freddie Freeman. Down just one run, Markakis came to the plate and had two runners in scoring position after Freeman stole second during his at-bat. The closer was able to come through, however, with a strikeout of Markakis to earn the save.
"When you've got a guy throwing 100 miles an hour, it's a tough AB no matter what," Freeman said. "He was throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes today, so it was tough. But that's us. We battled, and we gave them a little scare."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Cardinals' eight-game winning streak is their most since April 28 to May 5, 2015, and the longest of Matheny's managerial career.
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
With the game on the line in the ninth, the Cardinals seemed to have converted a normal 4-3 play for the second out of the inning. However, Matt Carpenter was unable to hold on to Kolten Wong's throw and Danny Santana was ruled safe. The Cardinals challenged that Carpenter had gotten possession before Santana hit the bag, but after a 52-second review, the call was upheld.
INJURY UPDATE Jedd Gyorko was a late scratch from the Cardinals' lineup, as the third baseman is dealing with right knee irritation. But he was available to pinch-hit if needed, and the hope is he will be full go after Monday's off-day.
"Just a sore knee. We've kind of been going through this for a bit now, giving him time when we can," Matheny said. "He can come off the bench to hit, so he'll be available again [Sunday] and then hopefully with the off-day built in, give him enough to get past this."
WHAT'S NEXT Braves: Right-handed knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (7-7, 4.03) closes out the three-game series in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon, with the first pitch set for 2:15 p.m. ET. Dickey is 3-1 with a 4.38 ERA in eight career games against the Cardinals.
Cardinals:Michael Wacha (9-4, 3.70 ERA) will take the mound for the series finale vs. the Braves at 1:15 p.m. CT on Sunday. The right-hander is 6-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 10 career August starts. He is the only active pitcher in MLB (minimum 10 starts) with a perfect career record in August.