Cardinals' mindset: Keep pedal to the metal -- even at 35 games over .500

It's not all that uncommon for the St. Louis Cardinals to reach 35 games over .500 in a season. It's less common for them to do it this early in the year, but when they do, a trip to the World Series has almost always followed.

The next step is ensuring themselves at least a .500 season, and that foregone conclusion can come as early as Wednesday night in Arizona while marking their fastest pace to 81 wins since 2004.

After Tuesday's 9-1 win over the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals (80-45) are 35 over in 125 games or fewer for the 13th time in franchise history.

Of the previous seven times they've done it in the World Series era, they've reached the Fall Classic six times. The only exception came in 1941 when they missed out on the NL pennant by 2 1/2 games to the Brooklyn Dodgers despite finishing 41 games over.

This team also remains in a competitive division race with Pittsburgh sitting 4 1/2 games back and Chicago 6 1/2, giving the Central the top three teams in the NL -- though St. Louis hasn't given up any ground on a three-game winning streak.

"We keep track of (the record) but we're right in the middle of a dogfight in our division," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think it's good for us, to be honest with you, just keep pressing and make sure we're not backing off. There's no time for that."

Yadier Molina had two RBIs for a third straight game and Tommy Pham went 3 for 5 to improve his average to .400 in the last six after batting .160 in his first 15.

"They seem to be pretty energized," Arizona manager Chip Hale said. "I don't know if it is hitting in our ballpark. Some teams have come in here and done that but they are really playing well."

Arizona (62-63), which has topped out at 81 wins over the past three seasons, is in danger of matching a season-worst four-game home skid.

Paul Goldschmidt was 2 for 2 but is batting .247 in 23 games this month.

The Cardinals have won 11 of the last 12 in the series, but road wins haven't come easily with John Lackey on the mound.

The Cardinals are 10-3 when Lackey (10-8, 2.99 ERA) starts at home and 3-9 on the road -- despite being eight games over .500 as a team. He's been given better run support on the road (4.52), so it falls back on his 4.40 away ERA opposed to a 1.91 home mark.

The trend continued in Friday's 9-3 loss in San Diego as the right-hander gave up five runs -- four earned -- and nine hits in six innings. While it ended a string of 12 straight quality starts, plenty of blame landed on the three errors made behind him in a five-run fifth.

"First couple of innings I felt as good as I have felt all year," Lackey said. "It came down to that fifth inning. I struck out the side that inning. I felt pretty good."

Lackey is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts against the Diamondbacks, but he hasn't seen them since 2010.

He'll face Patrick Corbin (3-3, 4.09), who hasn't lost in his last five starts but deserved to his last time out. The left-hander gave up four runs and eight hits in two innings of Thursday's 5-4 win in Cincinnati for his worst start of the season, regressing after going 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA in his previous five starts.

The 26-year-old is making his 10th start back from Tommy John surgery.