Maybe this is a pretty good ballclub, after all.
Kyle Lohse pitched six excellent innings and the Cardinals made the most of limited offensive opportunities in a 4-0 win over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night.
St. Louis has won three in a row and six out of seven, assuring itself of a winning Southern California road swing. The Cards pulled even with the Cubs atop the National League Central thanks to Chicago's earlier loss to the Pirates.
A season ago, the Cardinals didn't win their 30th game until they had lost 36. Following Saturday night's victory, they stand at 30-21. They've recovered from a brief hiccup to win three straight series, two of them against contending clubs.
It's early. But it's getting later, and the Cardinals aren't going away yet.
"We've got guys that come to play every day," said outfielder Skip Schumaker, whose third-inning walk helped propel a four-run frame. "None of us are taking days off and relaxing. The guys that get to play really want to produce. We know that we might not be playing the next day. So we want to really produce that day."
Lohse (4-2) was barely threatened as he breezed through his best outing since the season's first week. He allowed five hits, no walks and struck out five. It was the second consecutive quality start for Lohse, who was reached for 19 runs in his three starts before that.
The right-hander permitted two one-out singles in the first, escaping the jam with a fly ball and a strikeout. He allowed two more hits in the sixth, getting out with a grounder and a deep fly to center. In between, he faced the minimum 12 batters.
"They got a couple guys on early tonight, and I had to make some pitches early on," Lohse said. "After that, I felt like I got it going, up until the sixth inning, when they got two infield hits and I had to make some pitches again. I felt strong, though. I felt good. I was locating the fastball real well, and that was a big key to me tonight."
Brad Penny was in control for the Dodgers, meanwhile, with the exception of one concentrated uprising for the Redbirds.
With two outs and the bases empty in the third, Penny walked Adam Kennedy and Schumaker. Chris Duncan poked an RBI single to left field, Albert Pujols dropped a double into center that Matt Kemp nearly caught and Rick Ankiel placed a two-run double into shallow left. At most, one of the balls was hit hard, but they added up to a four-run frame.
"We were very fortunate to get a run against Penny, the way he was throwing," Schumaker said. "We had video of him, and he wasn't throwing 97 in the seventh in any video we were watching. He was very good. He had his fastball working, his curveball working, and he came right after us. Even the hits that we had weren't exactly barreled, except for Albert's."
Handed the lead, Lohse held the fort through the sixth before handing over to a bullpen that was outstanding. Randy Flores allowed a walk but no hits in the seventh, and Kyle McClellan permitted only an infield single in the eighth (with a call changed from an error to a hit after the game).
Then rookie Chris Perez steamrolled the Dodgers in the ninth, striking out the last three batters after allowing a leadoff single.
"I don't know if he is the closer, but he should be," Penny said. "He kept his slider down. He executed."
And so did all of his teammates.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.