Perhaps a dramatic 16-inning victory is just what the Cardinals needed to escape from their recent slide.
St. Louis will put that to the test on Thursday night, when it closes out its four-game series against Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park. The Redbirds had dropped five of their previous six games before Matt Adams' second extra-innings solo homer lifted them to a 5-4 victory over the Reds on Wednesday night. The win pulled the Cardinals to within a game of the Pirates for the National League Central lead and gave them a 2 1/2-game edge over the Reds for the top NL Wild Card spot.
They will go for the series split on Thursday, hoping that Adams' heroics can help ignite their bats. The Cardinals' offense hit .176/.232/.198 during that previous six-game stretch, but managed 12 hits on Wednesday. Before that, Reds pitching had held them to five hits or fewer in three straight games for the first time since 1962-63.
St. Louis right-hander Lance Lynn (13-9, 4.29 ERA) also is trying to get himself out of a rough patch.
Lynn's last effective start came at Great American Ball Park on Aug. 4, when he held the Reds to two runs over eight innings while striking out a season-high 11. In five starts since, he is 0-4 with a 6.83 ERA and .339 opponents' batting average.
One problem for Lynn has been the big inning. In four of those outings, he endured at least one frame of at least three runs. A five-run third inning derailed his start at Pittsburgh on Saturday, after which Lynn said that in order to get out of some jams he needs "to will it more instead of just hoping it happens."
The Reds' Tony Cingrani (6-3, 2.76) is trying to bounce back as well, but in his case, it's from a lower back strain. The rookie left-hander has been out of commission since the injury -- which had been bothering him for a couple of weeks -- caused him to leave his Aug. 20 start against the D-backs after 3 2/3 innings.
Cingrani went through his normal pre-start preparation, throwing a successful 30-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday. Manager Dusty Baker admitted that the team is "not exactly sure what we're going to get" from Cingrani, especially in terms of his endurance. But Cingrani is looking forward to giving it a shot.
"It'd be nice to pitch against the Cardinals," Cingrani said before Baker made it official that he was going to start. "I just want to get back and start throwing."
"He's a very confident young man," Baker said. "He thinks like a winner."
Cardinals: Craig leaves early
First baseman Allen Craig exited Wednesday's game in the top of the fourth inning with a left foot sprain and was replaced by Adams. Craig stepped awkwardly after rounding first base on a single and nearly running into first-base umpire Laz Diaz. He managed to walk off the field under his own power, but he clearly was in pain.
The Cardinals will re-evaluate Craig on Thursday. He entered Wednesday third in the NL with 97 RBIs and sixth with a .314 average.
• Backup catcher Tony Cruz, recovering from a stress fracture of his left forearm, hit in the indoor batting cage at Great American Ball Park for the second straight day on Wednesday and also took BP on the field. Manager Mike Matheny said Cruz is "not too far away" from returning to game action.
Reds: Reynolds part of Plan B
Right-hander Greg Reynolds made both starts that Cingrani missed while on the disabled list, and he held the Rockies to three runs over eight innings his last time out. Baker plans to have Reynolds ready to go in case Cingrani can't go deep in Thursday's game.
"Really, preparation is just that," Reynolds said. "Once you get out there, it's all the same. You just have to stick to what makes you successful, and I think that's mostly what I'll focus on."
Reynolds, 1-2 with a 4.74 ERA in three starts, is getting his first opportunity to pitch in the big leagues since 2011. The 28-year-old is pitching in a pennant race for the first time.
"It's what we're all playing for," Reynolds said. "It's an exciting time around here. These are all big games, especially within the division. To kind of just be thrown into it, I'm just embracing it and taking it in stride. I'm going to enjoy every minute of it, and I'm really looking forward to helping out any way I can."
• Lynn is 3-0 with a 2.67 ERA in four starts against the Reds this year, including 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in two outings at Great American Ball Park.
• The Cardinals hold an 11-7 lead in the season series, which ends on Thursday.