Dodgers continue road trip in St. Louis

- A pair of playoff contenders that have rebounded from a sluggish start to the second half start up a four-game series this evening at Busch Stadium, where the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals play host to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After sitting atop the National League West standings for most of the season's first three months, the Dodgers fell out of the top spot following a woeful 6-19 stretch from June 19-July 17. Los Angeles seems to have regained its touch during this current road trip, however, opening up the 10-game trek with three consecutive victories over the sliding New York Mets over the weekend.

The Dodgers needed extra innings to complete the sweep, but erupted for five runs in the top of the 12th to register an 8-3 win in Sunday's finale. Pinch- hitter Matt Treanor broke the deadlock with a two-RBI single, with Adam Kennedy capping the uprising with a double that brought home a pair of runs.

James Loney and Tony Gwynn Jr. began the 12th with singles and Andre Ethier was intentionally walked to load the bases for Treanor, who delivered a ground ball up the middle with two out to give Los Angeles a 5-3 lead.

"I knew the situation might come up," said Treanor. "I went up there and basically just looking for a pitch to hit, something out over the plate."

The Dodgers took a 3-2 advantage into the bottom of the ninth, but closer Javy Guerra was touched for a run on two hits to send the contest into extra frames.

The win moved Los Angeles within 1 1/2 games of first-place San Francisco in the division standings after the Giants lost at Philadelphia on Sunday.

St. Louis also struggled out of the All-Star break, having been swept in a three-game set with Cincinnati and then dropping two of three matchups in Milwaukee to begin its second half. The Cardinals bounced back strongly upon returning home, though, outscoring the Chicago Cubs by a lopsided 23-1 margin in taking all three bouts in this past weekend's series between the two rivals.

After getting seven scoreless innings from Jake Westbrook in a 12-0 rout on Saturday, Lance Lynn combined with two relievers on a five-hitter as St. Louis bested the Cubs by a 7-0 score yesterday afternoon.

Lynn worked the first six innings and yielded just four hits and three walks to pick up his 12th win of the season, one shy of the Mets' R.A. Dickey for the NL lead. Fernando Salas and Marc Rzepcynski finished off the shutout to help St. Louis nail down its fifth straight win at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals are now 9-2 at home during the month of July.

Lynn got all the support he would need in the first inning, with Jon Jay and Tony Cruz each stroking two-run doubles off Chicago starter Travis Wood to give St. Louis a quick 4-0 advantage. Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran added back-to-back solo homers in the fifth to extend the margin to seven.

"(It was) their series, I guess," Wood said of the Cardinals. "They put the ball in play, they got the hits when they needed, scored the runs, and [Sunday] they did more of the same."

St. Louis will attempt to keep up its hot hitting tonight against Chad Billingsley, who'll be making his first start in two weeks following a short stint on the disabled list.

Billingsley was placed on the DL with right elbow inflammation on July 8, one day after allowing four runs in six innings in a defeat at Arizona. It was the fifth consecutive losing start for the right-hander, who brings a 4-9 record and a career-worst 4.30 earned run average into this evening's tilt.

The soon-to-be 28-year-old has also struggled historically against the Cardinals, having compiled just a 1-3 mark and a 4.63 ERA in nine lifetime games (8 starts). In four career outings at Busch Stadium, he's 0-2 with a 6.41 ERA.

Billingsley, who has posted an ugly 6.21 ERA during his present rough patch and hasn't won since June 10, got a no-decision when facing St. Louis in Los Angeles on May 20. He surrendered five runs (3 earned) and walked four before exiting after six innings.

The Cardinals hand the ball tonight to rookie Joe Kelly, with the young righty seeking to put together his sixth straight quality start. The 24-year-old has pitched to a solid 2.75 ERA in seven appearances since replacing the injured Jaime Garcia in the rotation, though he has just one victory to show for his efforts.

Kelly took a loss his previous time out after giving up three runs (2 earned) over six innings at Milwaukee last Tuesday. He held Miami to only one earned run and two hits through six frames in his prior start, but wound up stuck with a no-decision after the Marlins rallied after he departed.

The Southern California native will be aiming to halt a string of seven straight losses by the Cardinals to Los Angeles, which includes a three-game sweep at Busch Stadium last August. The Dodgers also won all three meetings between the clubs in Los Angeles from May 18-20.