The Dodgers have reached the halfway point of their season, and the mood of the team is markedly different than it was even earlier this month -- and for good reason.
The Dodgers have climbed 7 1/2 games in the National League West standings since June 8, jumping from 9 1/2 back to just two behind the first-place Giants. They've gone from underachieving to holding the third-best record in the NL.
"Well, it feels a lot better now than it did two weeks ago, I'll say that," manager Don Mattingly said. "Right now, it feels good. It feels like we're playing with good energy. We've hit our stride, it feels like, and now it's just a matter of maintaining that stride.
"It's about winning series and knocking games off the calendar."
That's easier said than done, especially with the Cardinals in town, a team that Mattingly says always plays the Dodgers tough.
The teams will play Game 3 of a four-game set Saturday, sending two evenly matched right-handers to the mound.
Zack Greinke, who will get the ball for the Dodgers, is 9-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 96 2/3 innings. St. Louis starter Lance Lynn is 8-4 with a 2.90 ERA in 99 1/3 innings.
Lynn is coming off eight innings of three-hit scoreless ball against the Rockies, benefiting from a tweak he made to his delivery. Thinking that he had been tipping his pitches, Lynn has made an effort to keep his hands lower.
"I've got a lot of weird and awkward swings on my breaking pitches that I hadn't been getting -- which is the reason we thought I might have been tipping," Lynn said after his outing.
Greinke dealt with the opposite situation in his last start -- his breaking pitches weren't working.
"It wasn't good," Greinke said after allowing five runs on 11 hits against the Royals. "The fastball was good, but really bad offspeed, that was the problem today. They didn't have to respect it. It was like I did them a favor when I threw offspeed."
He'll try to return to form for the Dodgers, who have most elements of their game working right now.
"I think we always have some things to improve, but at this point, I'm happy with the energy of my club," Mattingly said. "It seems like we're playing with a sense of urgency every night."
Cardinals: Peralta cleaning up
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta might've found a home in the cleanup spot of manager Mike Matheny's lineup -- at least for now.
Peralta batted fourth for the third straight game Friday after having not hit there the entire season. Matheny made a similar lineup change Sunday, moving Matt Holliday to the No. 2 spot in the order in an attempt to get his offense going.
"That hot hand can be deceptive at times, because there is no guarantee that it will continue," Matheny said. "We do that a lot with our lineup, stick with somebody because they're on a good run."
Peralta extended his hitting streak to eight games Friday, hitting a two-run double in the fifth inning to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. He's hit safely in 12 of his last 13 starts. He leads his team with 11 home runs -- eight of which have come on the road.
Dodgers: Defense fueling hot stretch
When left fielder Matt Kemp threw out Allen Craig at home in Thursday's 1-0 Dodgers victory, it put an exclamation point on what has been a defensive renaissance in Los Angeles.
Second baseman Dee Gordon has shown range to both his left and right, making diving grabs and jumping throws. Reserve infielder Miguel Rojas has impressed at three infield positions, and as a whole, the Dodgers have the look of a more defensively sound team than they were at the beginning of the season.
"I think we've just been solid," Mattingly said. "I think we are who we are defensively. It's not about how much range you have. It's about being in the right spot, making the plays you're supposed to make and not hurting your club.
"Early on, I felt like we were making mistakes that were costing our team 25-30 pitches, and there was like a trickle-down effect, which means the starters were out of there early, and the bullpen's pitching more, and we were giving teams extra outs."
• Greinke is 8-3 in 12 career appearances (10 starts) against the Cardinals, with a 3.10 ERA.
• Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly threw 41 pitches in a two-inning rehab start for Triple-A Memphis. He allowed two hits, two runs, three walks and struck out one.
Michael Lananna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.