MLB

Royals need Hammel to step up as Cardinals go for sweep

ST. LOUIS -- Overshadowed in the hubbubsurrounding #rallycat is this salient fact about the St. Louis Cardinals: Their offense is functioning at a level many thought it would back in February and March.

The rally cathashtag is courtesy of a brief delay to carry a cat off the field, followed by Yadier Molina's grand slam on the next pitch in an 8-5 decision over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday.

In winning five straight games, St. Louis has scored a whopping 46 runs, including 29 in the first three games of their four-game home-and-home interleague series with the Royals.

The Cardinals can match their longest winning streak of the year in Thursday night's series finale at Busch Stadium and put a little more pressure on the idle Chicago Cubs to boot.

At 58-56, St. Louis has moved within 1 1/2 games of Chicago for first place in the National League Central. The Cardinals also have tied Milwaukee for second place, thanks to the Brewers' 4-0 loss Wednesday night to Minnesota.

While the Cardinals have received solid pitching throughout this stretch, their offense has played the starring role. They have scored at least eight runs in four straight games for the first time in five years.

"It's really fun to come to the park every day," first baseman Matt Carpenter said. "We're just getting great at-bats throughout our lineup. We're putting pressure on pitchers from 1 through 9 in our lineup."

As he has done throughout his career, Carpenter is starting the charge from the leadoff spot. He reached base three times Wednesday night with two walks and a hit, upping his average to .253 and his on-base percentage to .388.

Dexter Fowler drew three walks, extending his string of games with a walk to seven, just one off the NL season high of eight set by Carpenter in May. Kolten Wong picked up a pair of walks as well.

"Too many guys were under their career norms," Carpenter said. "You knew something was going to happen. When you start feeling successful and confident as a team, you usually go on runs."

Speaking of runs, St. Louis starter Lance Lynn (10-6, 3.12 ERA) will try to keep his going. Lynn is 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA over his last six starts. He bested Cincinnati 4-1 Saturday night with a three-hit, one-run effort over six innings.

But Kansas City is one of the few teams that has had Lynn's number since he became a full-time starter in 2012. In three career outings against the Royals, Lynn is 0-1 with a 6.38 ERA.

Badly in need of a well-pitched game from a starter, Kansas City (57-56) will call on Jason Hammel (5-9, 4.73). Hammel has looked better since a rocky beginning, allowing no more than three runs in anyof his last six starts.

Hammel pitched decently Friday night in a 5-2 loss to Seattle, permitting six hits and three runs in 6 1/3 innings, with a walk and three strikeouts. However, he has struggled to hold down St. Louis in his career, going 4-6 with a 5.68 ERA in 12 starts.

In this series, the Royals have gotten only 13 innings out of their starters, putting pressure on a bullpen that had to endure a doubleheader Sunday.

"The offense did a great job, but we just need to pitch better," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said after Wednesday night's defeat.