Cards open tough road stretch versus Reds

If the St. Louis Cardinals emerge from their upcoming road trip still holding on to a playoff spot, they would have certainly earned it.

The Cards open up the 10-game trek on Friday with the opener of a three-game series against the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds.

St. Louis will first try to close a seven-game gap between itself and Cincinnati in the division before visiting the Pittsburgh Pirates for three games to begin next week. The Cardinals lead the Pirates by one game for the second wild card spot in the NL.

The defending World Series champions then wrap their swing with a four-game set at the Washington Nationals, who lead the NL East.

The Cardinals won for the fourth time in five games on Thursday, routing the Houston Astros 13-5 to finish off a three-game sweep. Matt Holliday highlighted a five-run fifth inning with a three-run double, finishing with four RBI. Holliday and teammate Carlos Beltran are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun for the league lead in RBI with 85.

"It was one of the biggest games of the year to close out the sweep against these guys," said Allen Craig, who had three hits and three RBI. "We weren't really swinging very well, but to turn it around the way we did was huge."

David Freese added a three-run homer and run-scoring single, while Jake Westbrook yielded five runs over five innings to earn the win.

Lance Lynn now tries to get on track for the Cardinals as he is 0-1 with a 5.48 earned run average in four starts since his last victory on July 27.

The right-hander turned in this shortest outing of the season on Saturday against the Pirates. Unable to minimize the damage over 4 1/3 frames, Lynn was charged with three runs on four hits and three walks with eight strikeouts.

"I threw the ball well all day," Lynn said. "You give up four hits and they cost you (three) runs, that's the tough part about it. You gotta make sure those hits don't cost you runs."

The 25-year-old is 13-5 with a 3.73 ERA in 24 starts and will make his first career start versus the Reds, having faced them three times in relief as a rookie last season.

Mat Latos hopes to prevent the second-place Cardinals from cutting into the Reds' lead when he makes his 26th start of the season. The righty is 10-3 with a 3.56 ERA and has not factored into the decision of his last three starts since winning three in a row, with Cincinnati 2-1 over that time.

The 24-year-old righty, who hasn't lost since July 18, is coming off an eight- inning no-decision versus the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. Latos was charged with four runs -- only two earned -- on six hits and three walks in an eventually 5-4 win.

Latos is 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA in two starts against the Cards this season.

The Reds had to settle for a four-game split with the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday after suffering a 4-3 loss in 11 innings. Alfredo Simon took the loss, yielding John Mayberry's walk-off RBI single in the frame.

"We just started to keep playing Houdini all the time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Three innings in a row they kept putting them out there. They didn't quit."

Todd Frazier knocked in all three runs for the Reds, who were denied their first three-game win streak in Philadelphia since 1996.

The Reds have won their last four meetings with the Cardinals and lead the season series 5-4.