CINCINNATI -- One down, two to go.
The start of this weekend's series marked the most crucial crunch of the season for the Cardinals, who began a 10-game, three-series road trip that undoubtedly holds significant playoff implications.
With Sunday's 8-2 win, the Cardinals took two of three from the Reds to start the road trip off on the right foot and cut Cincinnati's lead in the National League Central down to six games.
"For us to beat the Reds two out of three at home is good for us," said Matt Holliday, whose big bat was a big reason for the Cardinals' success this weekend. "But we've got two big series ahead of us. There's six weeks left, and if we want to get where we want to go, we've got to play well. Beating the Reds two out of three is a step in that direction."
Holliday was just a home run shy of the cycle Sunday, knocking a single in the third, a triple in the sixth and a double in the seventh, with a chance to notch the rare feat in his final at-bat in the ninth against Reds reliever Jose Arredondo.
Holliday took a big hack at the opening pitch of the at-bat before settling for a single up the middle for his third four-hit effort. He also extended his hitting streak to six games.
"It's amazing the conversations outside of this clubhouse, [when people] start questioning him," said manager Mike Matheny. "It's not long before he shows everybody why he's had the kind of season he's had and just how much he means to us."
As valuable as Holliday has been, the Cardinals could have likely gone without his services Sunday, as the club racked up 17 hits in the contest -- the most the Reds have given up all season.
Four different Cardinals tallied multiple hits, including Allen Craig, who had three hits -- including his 20th home run -- to boost his average up to .318 on the season.
"I think it all started with the two Matts [Carpenter and Holliday] getting on base so much," said Craig, who also drove in three runs. "We'd like to think that when guys are on that much that we'll get them in, more often than not. I definitely take pride in driving in runs."
The hot bats backed yet another strong start from Adam Wainwright.
Wainwright held the Reds to just two singles through the first five innings, facing the minimum over the first four frames before facing his first real threat in the bottom of the sixth.
Two leadoff singles and a pair of unturned double plays led to two Reds runs, trimming their lead to 5-2. Wainwright was replaced in by Marc Rzepczynski later in the sixth, but he still earned his 13th win of the season.
Wainwright is now 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his past five starts and has not allowed more than two earned runs in his previous eight outings.
"I wasn't worn down at all. I felt perfectly normal," said Wainwright, who was coming off a nine-inning, 105-pitch outing against Houston. "I understand I had a couple games in a row where I had nine innings, seven innings, 120 [pitches] or whatever I had, so I get it. I certainly want to take my team further into the game than that, but we'll take a win and go on to Pittsburgh."
The win also gives St. Louis a two-game cushion over Pittsburgh, which was shut out by the Brewers, 7-0, at home on Sunday. The Cardinals make their trip there Monday.
The trip couldn't have come at a better time for the Cardinals, who have hit a hot streak of late, winning 15 of their past 24. St. Louis is 23-12 since July 20, reminiscent of its run to the World Series last season.
With 35 games left, including another three-game stint with the Reds in St. Louis, the Cardinals are certainly not ruling out the possibility of another division crown.
"To deny that [the win] doesn't mean more inside the division is not true," Matheny said. "We know it means more, but we know too, if we're going to be consistent we've got to have that kind of approach from here on out. I think we need to stay consistent with the message. The message is do it every night. Let's figure out a way. When you look back, you'll be where you need to be."
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.