ST. LOUIS -- Manager Mike Matheny, who has made a habit out of downplaying the importance of individual games this season, changed his tune on Thursday.

A day before the Cardinals begin a critical three-game set in Cincinnati, Matheny emphasized the importance of that particular series, as well as the club's entire 10-game, three-city swing.

"I can't wait to play them," Matheny said of the Reds. "That's so contradictory to everything I've said ... but you look at this trip coming up and how that series went [immediately after the All-Star break] and how close that series was, it certainly could have gone three games the other [way] for us.

"We haven't had a lot of conversations about it, because we're all about staying in the here and now, but that's going to be a fun series."

The Reds own the season-series advantage, 5-4, heading into the three-game set at Great American Ball Park. The Cards' last trip there in July did not end well. Cincinnati swept the three-game set despite outscoring St. Louis by only five runs.

The Cardinals entered that weekend series sitting just 2 1/2 games out of first place. Now, St. Louis trails the National League Central-leading Reds by eight games. The Redbirds, who still believe they can make a push for an NL Central title, also have one more three-game set against Cincinnati at home this year, which is also the final series of the season.

"I don't think you're making too big a deal of it, because it is a big deal," Matheny said, when asked if too much was being made about the importance of the upcoming trip. "I wouldn't go so far as to say defining. I think we've all seen that every time we say that this is do or die, it isn't necessarily the case. But to ignore the fact that this is a huge road trip would be a mistake."

In the first nine games played between the two clubs, the Cardinals have outscored the Reds, 36-26, and have held Cincinnati to a .255 team batting average.

The upcoming stop in Cincinnati will be the first of three straight road series against clubs that are currently in the playoff race. There will be three games played in Pittsburgh and another four in Washington. The Nationals are the only team with more wins than the Reds this season.

"It's going to be important," said outfielder Matt Holliday, who drove in four runs in Thursday's 13-5 win over the Astros. "I don't think it's necessarily a do-or-die scenario, but it's three good teams. It'll be a challenge. But we're up for it."

Matheny: Jay merits Gold Glove consideration

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Matheny, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, said he is prepared to push Jon Jay's name into the discussion for this season's Rawlings hardware.

Jay, in his first full season as the Cardinals' center fielder, has shined with his defensive steadiness and impressed with how routinely he has made highlight-reel-type plays. The whole package, Matheny said, should warrant Jay strong consideration in this fall's Gold Glove Award voting.

"If you're just talking about the impact defensively that a player has made, I just can't imagine that anybody has had more of an impact than he has," Matheny said. "I'll lobby for him whenever I can, because I have been more than impressed."

Gold Glove winners are voted upon by managers and coaching staffs, though Matheny, by rule, cannot vote for Jay.

Jay's chances of earning his first Gold Glove honor could be hampered by two factors. Recent changes in the voting rules mean that Jay has to go head to head in the voting against Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, whom many anticipate is the front-runner for the award.

For many years, the top three outfield votegetters, regardless of position, earned the honor. Now, there is a separation to where one Gold Glove is handed out to a right fielder, another to a center fielder and the other to a left fielder.

Also a potential factor is the time Jay missed while nursing a shoulder injury. That cost him the chance to showcase his ability in front of several teams. Thursday marked just the 71st start Jay has made in center field this season.

"He's made enough good plays that have gotten national attention, too, that I think people are going to take a look at the statistics," Matheny said. "I just have a hard time, as you go through the league, [finding] many guys who are better."

Still, Jay entered Thursday as the only National League center fielder to make at least 48 starts at the position and not commit an error. Jay's Ultimate zone rating, a defensive metric that measures how a player compares to an average player at the position, is 6.7, the second-best UZR among NL center fielders.

"I do my homework out there," said Jay. "I try to go out there and trust myself and make plays. I try to work hard so that when these things do happen, I've been there before."

Despite discomfort, Beltran says he feels great

ST. LOUIS -- While the cortisone injection is not a permanent cure for Carlos Beltran's left hand soreness, the shot seems to have done enough to keep the 35-year-old in the lineup for now.

Beltran went 1-for-3 in his return to the lineup on Wednesday, and he was back in the cleanup spot for Thursday's series finale against the Astros.

"I feel great right now," Beltran said. "I'm just going to approach it day by day. I'm going to continue to come here and do the treatment and try to make it better. But [Wednesday] was a good day for me, because I wasn't really thinking about my hand. I was thinking about swinging the bat and trying to do my thing."

Beltran said he's been dealing with discomfort in the tendon just below his left middle finger for more than a month. He is still not sure what triggered the pain, but it got to be so nagging over the past two weeks that the club decided to consider additional treatment. Beltran and the medical staff settled on a cortisone injection.

"Right now, there's no time to take days off," Beltran said. "I was trying to find a way to stay in the lineup. We talked about it, we had an ultrasound to find out what is wrong. There's nothing wrong, the ligaments are fine. I just had a lot of inflammation in the middle finger."

The timing of the pain coincides with Beltran's recent dip in production, suggesting that there is perhaps correlation between the two. Since the All-Star break, Beltran is hitting .239 with a .270 on-base percentage. He batted .296 during the first half of the season.

Worth noting

• Lance Berkman is still scheduled to begin his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Memphis on Friday. Berkman, who has been on the disabled list because of right knee soreness, fielded ground balls at Busch Stadium on Thursday. He has increased his running this week, too.

• The Reds' rotation against the Cardinals in this weekend's series lines up as such: Mat Latos (10-3, 3.56 ERA) will start on Friday, followed by Mike Leake (5-8, 4.59) on Saturday and Homer Bailey (10-8, 4.11) on Sunday.

• With his win on Wednesday, Kyle Lohse became just the fourth pitcher in franchise history to win 13 of his first 15 decisions in a season. Joining Lohse (13-2) in that group are Dizzy Dean (13-2 in 1936), Ted Wilks (14-1 in 1944) and Harry Brecheen (13-2 in 1944).

• The Cardinals entered Thursday having not homered since the fifth inning of their Aug. 15 game against Arizona. Still, St. Louis ranks seventh in the National League with 128 home runs this year.

• After going hitless in his first five Major League at-bats, Ryan Jackson drove a single into right field on Thursday to pick up his first big league hit. The fifth-inning, pinch-hit single helped jump-start the Cardinals' five-run inning.

"The first one's always the hardest in any season," Jackson said. "Once you get the first one, it's kind of a lift for you. I would say it helps."

His teammates safely secured the ball, which had not been presented to Jackson by the time the rookie infielder addressed the media. Adding to the special moment was the fact that Jackson's parents were in the stands, having traveled to town from Florida.