CINCINNATI -- This weekend was a series that the Cardinals certainly needed to win more than the Reds. But any added breathing room would have been welcomed as Cincinnati drags through the dog days of August.
The Reds missed a chance to put more distance between themselves and the second-place Cardinals in an 8-2 loss on Sunday at Great American Ball Park. St. Louis won two out of three in the series and leaves town six games back in the National League Central.
"To deny that it doesn't mean more inside the division is not true," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We know it means more, but we know too, if we're going to be consistent we've got to have that kind of approach from here on out."
Cincinnati, which has 33 games left to play, remains in an enviable position. Since the All-Star break, it has only dropped two series (9-2-2).
"Six games is a substantial amount of games this late in the season," first baseman Todd Frazier said. "We still have a month to go. I'm just glad we're up six games. We have nothing to worry about. We're just going keep chugging and keep winning games and focus on those W's. We're going to lose some games. We can't win them all. It just happened to be today."
The Cardinals, which have won five of six games and seven of their last nine, encountered a Reds team running on fumes. By the time they finish the next series in Arizona on Wednesday, the Reds will have played 34 games over 34 days with only one off-day.
Included in that stretch was a doubleheader, a tough trip to Philadelphia and the entire stretch was without the long-injured Joey Votto. That could end as soon as next week, when Votto might return from a brief rehab assignment for next weekend's series in Houston.
After the pitching staff gave up a season-high 17 hits to the Cardinals on Sunday, the bullpen could especially use a chance to regroup.
"It's been a tough stretch for us," manager Dusty Baker said. "We've got three more days and then we have an off-day. We've had two days off since the All-Star break. We just have to push and push these next three days until we're off."
Reds starter Homer Bailey gave up five runs and nine hits over six innings and struck out three. Five of the nine hits off of Bailey came with two strikes, and he departed trailing, 5-0.
The game was scoreless until the Cardinals notched five hits in the top of the third, scoring three runs. Pitcher Adam Wainwright's one-out single through the left side put runners on the corners, and the barrage of two-strike hits followed. Jon Jay hit a 0-2 pitch for a one-out RBI single through the middle. On a 3-2 Bailey pitch, Matt Carpenter bounced a single to right field and Matt Holliday drove in his first two of four runs on the day with his single on the ground to left field to make it 3-0.
"I can hold my head up high," Bailey said. "I threw the ball well. Four ground ball singles in the third. I'm trying to get ground balls to roll a double play and keep it in the yard. I did my job. They found the holes. That's a really good hitting team over there."
In the sixth, Holliday led off with a tailing line drive to center field. Chris Heisey, filling in for Drew Stubbs, completely missed the ball with a diving attempt. As the ball rolled to the warning track, Holliday reached with a triple. On a 1-2 split-fingered fastball, Allen Craig mashed a two-run homer -- his 20th long ball this year -- to the second deck of bleachers in left field.
"That was a good lesson today on how to hit with runners in scoring position with two outs, and how to hit with two strikes," Baker said. "They definitely have a theory and philosophy on how to hit. Big Mac [hitting coach Mark McGwire] had them working the way he wants them to work."
Until the bottom of the sixth, Wainwright -- who is 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last five starts -- had given up only two hits and didn't let a runner get beyond first base. He faced the minimum over the first four innings.
"It felt like he was lulling us to sleep, I guess," Frazier said. "He's been doing it for a long time now. He knows what he's doing."
The sixth began with back-to-back singles from Ryan Hanigan and pinch-hitter Wilson Valdez. With one out, Heisey's single to right field scored Hanigan. A two-out single to right-center field by Ryan Ludwick pulled Cincinnati back to within three runs.
Wainwright exited and lefty Marc Rzepczynski got out of the jam. The Cardinals added two more runs in the seventh off of Sean Marshall and one run in the ninth against Jose Arredondo to stay comfortable.
"This has been our toughest stretch of the year," Baker said. "We knew it was going to be tough. I'm proud of my guys and how they've responded during this period of time."