Lynn leads Cardinals into finale vs. Braves

Lance Lynn has taken complete advantage of his first full season as a starter and the St. Louis Cardinals hope he can remain undefeated and avoid a three-game sweep when he toes the rubber Sunday against the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium.

Lynn entered the rotation when staff ace Chris Carpenter landed on the disabled list, and the former is thriving so far under the spotlight. Lynn has won his first six starts to the season, matching Bob Tewksbury's 6-0 start in the strike-shortened 1994 season, and is coming off Monday's 9-6 win at Arizona in which he struck out seven batters over five shutout innings.

"It's good," Lynn said. "We're winning games when I'm out there on the mound. That's all that matters. That's what I'm here to do, help the team win. I'm getting a lot of help. I just hope I keep improving every time out."

The right-hander lowered his ERA from 1.60 to 1.40 in the process and benefited from some admirable run support. Lynn, who is not eligible for Rookie of The Year honors because he threw too many innings (34 2/3) last season, is 2-0 in two home starts this season. He has never faced Atlanta.

Lynn made 18 appearances last season after he was brought up from the minors, but only two of them were starts.

St. Louis lost the opener of this series in extra innings, then dropped a 7-2 decision last night when starting pitcher Adam Wainwright failed to grab his third straight win. Wainwright was reached for five runs on nine hits and a career high-tying five walks over 4 1/3 innings to absorb the loss. He also struck out five batters.

"You throw 39 pitches or whatever it was in the first inning, you're putting yourself behind," said Wainwright.

Rafael Furcal and Allen Craig each drove in a run for St. Louis, which still leads the NL Central by 3 1/2 games ahead of Cincinnati. The Cardinals are 0-2 so far on a five-game homestand after winning four in a row and will host the Chicago Cubs for two games, starting with Monday's matchup.

The Cardinals hope to have slugger Lance Berkman back in action today and he has been on the disabled list with a left calf strain. Berkman took batting practice, fielded ground ball and sprinted in the outfield before last night's loss and is batting .348 this season with two RBI in seven games.

"We were hopeful of having him [activated Friday], but he still didn't quite feel 100 percent," Cards general manager John Mozeliak said. "But after what he's done today, all the feedback I'm getting has been very positive."

Atlanta aims for its third sweep of the season Sunday and improved to 6-2 on a nine-game road trip with Saturday's decisive win in the Gateway City.

Michael Bourn finished 3-for-6 with a solo home run, two RBI and two runs scored, while Brian McCann went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored for the Braves, who swept Milwaukee in three games from April 13-15 and Colorado from May 4-6.

Braves starter Brandon Beachy gave up just one run on two hits with four walks and six strikeouts over his six-inning stint, pushing his record to 4-1.

"I can go right after guys when I fall behind 2-0 like I did quite a bit tonight," Beachy said of the support. "I can come back and get a guy out whereas if that's a [0-0] game, I have to be a little more fine in those counts."

The Braves are just one-half game behind Washington for the NL East lead and will head home after today's contest for a four-game residency versus Cincinnati and Miami.

Getting the call for Atlanta this afternoon will be Tommy Hanson, who is coming off a tough loss at Chicago on Monday. In the 5-1 setback from Wrigley Field, Hanson was reached for a pair of runs and five hits, including two homers, in six innings of work. Hanson struck out three and has yielded at least two runs in five of his seven starts this season.

Hanson bounced back from his worst start of the year against the Cubs, and is 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts this season. He will face St. Louis for only the second time in his career this afternoon and pitched seven innings of two-run ball during a 6-3 win on Sept. 11, 2010 for the no-decision.

Atlanta and St. Louis are meeting for the first time since the Cardinals took five of six encounters a year ago. St. Louis is 11-5 in the past 16 matchups between the two ballclubs. The Braves snapped a seven-game slide at Busch Stadium with Friday's win in the series opener.