The St. Louis Cardinals were pulling at their collars until a late rally turned what could have been an uncomfortable division lead into breathable again.

The Cardinals can exhale a bit more as they start a long road trip with the bottom two teams in the NL Central, beginning with Thursday night's series opener against the last-place Cincinnati Reds.

St. Louis (88-51) was five outs from its fourth consecutive loss and a series sweep at the hands of Chicago on Wednesday, potentially tightening its division lead to 3 1/2 games over Pittsburgh and 5 1/2 over the Cubs.

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Instead, rookie Stephen Piscotty laced a two-run double in the eighth inning to help the Cardinals win 4-3, avoid their first sweep at home this season and remain 4 1/2 ahead of the Pirates.

St. Louis now looks to separate itself during a seven-game stretch in Cincinnati and Milwaukee before closing a 10-game trip in Chicago.

"It's definitely good to get that one," Piscotty said. "You don't want to get swept by the Cubs. We're fine. There's no panic. We did a good job of fighting back."

The road trip starts in good hands with Jaime Garcia (8-4, 1.89 ERA) on the mound. The Cardinals have won each of his last seven starts, with the left-hander going 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA while limiting hitters to a .212 average.

The good news for Cincinnati (57-81) is that it was the last team to beat Garcia. A three-run homer by Joey Votto was all Garcia gave up in six innings July 28, but it was more than enough for a 4-0 Reds victory.

The bad news for the Reds is that Garcia is 10-3 with a 3.26 ERA against them lifetime. Brandon Phillips has seen him the most of Cincinnati's hitters with a .302 average, two home runs and four doubles in 43 at-bats. Jason Bourgeois (6 for 14, four doubles) and Votto (9 for 31) have also fared well, while Todd Frazier (1 for 17) has not.

While Garcia can't seem to lose lately, Cincinnati starter John Lamb hasn't been able to pick up his first career win.

In fact, the Reds haven't won any of the rookie's five starts since he was called up from Triple A Louisville on Aug. 13.

Lamb (0-3, 6.11) looked destined to end the slide Saturday against Milwaukee when he carried a 5-1 lead into the sixth. The Brewers, though, used five singles, a double and a Reds error to score five runs in the inning and boot the left-hander out of the game.

Lamb's night was finished after allowing six runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's just part of the game. Disappointed with the result, obviously," Lamb told MLB's official website. "I felt good about that going out there in the sixth, then the wheels fell off. ... Disappointing."

The Cardinals activated first baseman Matt Adams from the 60-day disabled list Wednesday. He hit .243 with four home runs and 20 RBIs in 144 at-bats before going down with a strained quad.

St. Louis has won eight of 12 meetings this season, including four of six at Great American Ball Park.