Cards back on top of NL Central

It’s been a roller coaster for the St. Louis Cardinals over the past two weeks. At one point, the team had dropped 12 of 15 games, a mid-June stretch that dealt the them chunks of misfortune, bad-luck and injuries, most notably Albert Pujols, who landed on the disabled list with a fractured forearm.

In baseball, it takes just a game or two for a team to get hot, and that’s exactly what the Cardinals have been over their past four games. A three-game sweep over the American League East division Baltimore Orioles at Camdon Yards landed the Cardinals a share of first place in the National League Central division with the Milwaukee Brewers, who have lost four straight, including falling victim to a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, also of the AL East.

The Cardinals continued to roll Friday night, when they took the first of three games over the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-3. Starter Jake Westbrook (7-4, 4.92 ERA) tossed seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits, while fanning seven to walking three.

Colby Rasmus launched his third home run in four games for the Cardinals, dealing the ultimate blow to the Rays, who entered the series having won four of their last six contests.

The win gave the Cardinals sole possession of first place in the Central, as the Brewers were handed yet another defeat, a 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

For now, it appears the Cardinals’ worst rut of the season has been forgotten, as they are heating up during the summer’s hottest month.

***

Here’s what the Cardinals have done over their four-game winning streak:

1) The offense has found its groove, scoring 25 total runs for manager Tony La Russa, taking pressure off the starting rotation and the bullpen. Colby Rasmus, who has been on fire of late, has recorded five hits, including three home runs, driven in seven and has drawn four walks over his last seven games. He is clearly seeing the ball better, giving the offense extra boost in the middle of the order…Lance Berkman, who will no doubt be a starter in this summer’s All-Star Game in Arizona on July 12, continues to have a career-season. Puma, who is hitting .296, with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs and a .407 on-base-percentage, has tallied three hits, including two home runs and four RBIs in his last four games. Berkman is third in the NL in home runs, just two behind Prince Fielder, who leads the league with 22 long balls. The Cardinals’ switch-hitter also ranks fifth in the NL in RBIs and fourth in OBP…Matt Holliday‘s .322 batting average ranks third in the league as well.

2) The starting rotation is coming around too…Over the club’s last four games, starters Kyle Lohse (8-4, 2.78 ERA), Chris Carpenter (3-7, 4.00 ERA), Jaime Garcia (7-3, 3.33 ERA) and Westbrook have all picked up wins for the Cardinals. Lohse, Carpenter and Westbrook have  allowed one earned run or less in each of their last outings, lasting at least five innings.

For those who thought the Cardinals were slumping, well, they were. In fact, they were in the middle of their worst slump of the season. Now, with their 11-15 mark in June behind them, the Cardinals are heating up as the Mid-Summer Classic lingers on the horizon.

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