ATLANTA -- Seeking to balance his club's search for offense with Peter Bourjos' need to hit himself out of a slump, manager Mike Matheny circled Monday's matchup as one that could best fuse the two. He penned the lineup hoping that a game's worth of at-bats could help Bourjos get going.
It turned out to be the Cardinals who got going behind Bourjos.
The center fielder sparked the Cardinals' three-run fifth -- first with his bat, then with his speed -- and later helped the club add an insurance run they would need to hold on for a 4-3 victory over the Braves. Atlanta, which drew a crowd of 20,048 at Turner Field for the series opener, has now lost seven in a row.
The Cardinals have hardly had any traction themselves, dropping their last two series and not having won consecutive games since winning their fourth straight on April 15. That was also the last day on which Bourjos tallied a hit.
"It's been tough," Bourjos said of the 0-for-19 streak he snapped with his two-hit night. "It's not easy for anybody. But I think if you keep your head up and go about things the right way, things will turn around. You hope that when you do get your opportunity to play, you do take advantage of it."
With four hits in 10 career at-bats against Braves starter Aaron Harang, Bourjos said he thought this could be the day he returned to the starting lineup. But he also knew not to get his hopes up, as Jon Jay has drawn most of the starts against righties and Randal Grichuk has seemingly leapfrogged him on the depth chart.
But Matheny did turn to Bourjos, whose half-swing single to open the fifth ended the hitless skid and provided the opening St. Louis would need to get to Harang. Bourjos, given the green light to run, took off to second on Harang's sixth pitch to Mark Ellis. The timing was fortuitous, as shortstop Andrelton Simmons fumbled Ellis' sharply hit ground ball while looking indecisive on whether to try for two or retire Ellis at first.
"I think [Ellis's grounder] just got him kind of off balance," Harang said. "Those things are going to happen. I told him, 'Hey man, you've got to keep your head up. Don't kick yourself over one little thing like this.' I said, 'You're probably going to save my butt a few times this year, so don't even worry about this.'"
"Just getting moving," Matheny said, "and what that can do to rush the defense a little bit."
"I think we got a good break right there," added Bourjos.
The key was that they capitalized on it, too.
After a sacrifice bunt by Shelby Miller, Matt Carpenter drove the pair of runners home with a hustle-double to center. Matt Holliday's RBI single, which skipped off the glove of third baseman Chris Johnson, pushed St. Louis' lead to three.
Bourjos gave Miller a fourth run to work with when as he sliced an RBI single through the right side of the infield an inning later. Both of Bourjos' hits came off Harang in what was Bourjos' first start since April 26.
"We've all noticed that and commented and tried to encourage him that it is going to pay off one way or another," Matheny said of Bourjos' work ethic. "He's handled it the right way, even though it's no fun."
Miller and a line of four relievers made the Bourjos-built lead stand, though not without some added drama. Closer Trevor Rosenthal allowed the potential tying run to reach on a leadoff single in the ninth. Jason Heyward's two-out walk put the winning run aboard, too.
Rosenthal answered by freezing Justin Upton on a 98-mph fastball.
"Fastball on the outside corner," Rosenthal said. "Just trying to stay out of the middle of the plate and keep the ball down, because he has the ability to do some damage."
The save, Rosenthal's ninth in as many chances this season, preserved a fourth straight win for Miller, who still hasn't had what he would consider a complete start this season.
He was pitching out of the stretch most of Monday night as the Braves put the leadoff runner in five of the six innings Miller started. In a 25-pitch first inning, Miller navigated around trouble by striking out Evan Gattis and B.J. Upton with two runners in scoring position.
Miller got his pitch count back under control over the next four innings but didn't retire any of the three batters he faced in the sixth.
"He's close," Matheny said. "You're seeing some swings-and-misses. You're seeing some explosive fastballs in the top of the zone. You're seeing big strikeouts when he needs them, which are all positive things. There is just a little bit of consistency there missing in the bottom of the zone that keeps him from being out there longer."
Miller issued a leadoff walk (his 23rd in 39 1/3 season innings) to open the sixth. The Braves then struck for consecutive singles past diving first baseman Matt Adams. The first one foiled the shutout bid. The second drew Matheny out of the dugout with a quick hook.
Miller, his pitch count at 86, was not given the opportunity to go further.
"The leadoff walk kills you," Miller said. "I'm not pitching as good as I want to pitch right now. I don't feel like my stuff is exactly where it could be. But when you're winning games like this when not feeling as sharp as you could be, those are the ones you want to win."
Pat Neshek helped Miller out of the mess, though the Braves scored their second run on a sacrifice fly. Atlanta crept closer in the seventh when Ramiro Pena tattooed a high fastball from Kevin Siegrist for a solo homer.
Carlos Martinez and Rosenthal followed with scoreless innings to preserve the Cardinals' second consecutive one-run victory. The club had won just four of its first 10 one-run games this season.
"To be able to hold them off is big for us," Carpenter said. "Anytime you win a couple games in a row, you feel like you're going to get on a roll. Certainly, we hope that's the case here and that we get a lot of momentum and start playing like we're capable."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.