WASHINGTON -- With its breadth of postseason experience, it was expected that the heart of the Cardinals' lineup would do damage this October. And yet it's been the bottom of the order that's given the club some much-needed depth and given Nationals pitchers fits.

Players such as David Freese (last year's National League Championship Series and World Series MVP) and Carlos Beltran (with the all-time best home run/at-bat ratio of 7.54 and a career .367 postseason average) have supreme playoff pedigrees.

But with the help of players like Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso at the bottom, the heart of the order has been able to thrive. Even Chris Carpenter had two hits Wednesday from the No. 9 spot.

"You can't beat having eight guys in that lineup -- nine yesterday, including Carp -- who were putting tough at-bats together," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "There's no room to breathe."

St. Louis has kept its foot on the gas pedal this series, dominating nearly throughout. The rookie Kozma, who has started in all four playoff games at shortstop, hit a key three-run homer to aid the Cardinals' blowout on Wednesday. Descalso homered in Game 2, and he also tacked on an RBI single in that rout. He's also had a few potential homers snagged by fine defensive efforts.

"Daniel and Pete are both really good ballplayers, and they have hit pretty good throughout their career," said first baseman Allen Craig. "So when they're doing what they can do at the bottom of the lineup, it definitely helps the guys out in the middle of the lineup."

Holliday remains in lineup despite sore shin

WASHINGTON -- Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday was back in the lineup for Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Thursday after fouling a ball off his left shin in Game 3, although manager Mike Matheny said Holliday was "sore."

Wild Card vs. Nationals

Holliday fouled a 1-0 pitch from Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus off his left shin in the eighth inning of Wednesday's 8-0 win, and he was replaced by pinch-runner Shane Robinson after hitting a two-run single.

"We have had this happen to him quite a few times through the season, whether it's hit by a pitch or foul ball," Matheny said. "He's tough."

Holliday hit .435 during last year's NL Championship Series, and the six-time All-Star is batting .333 (5-for-15) with a homer and three RBIs in this year's playoffs, entering Thursday's game.

"The guy has played just about every day for us," Matheny said. "Absolutely has the respect of the clubhouse for that, a guy comes in banged up and still finds a way not to just get in there, but to do something big for us."

Lynn comes out of bullpen in Game 4

WASHINGTON -- The Cardinals had nine relievers ready for Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Thursday, as manager Mike Matheny deemed right-hander Lance Lynn available for limited use in relief.

Lynn's appearance lasted just one batter, but unfortunately for St. Louis, that one was Jayson Werth, who delivered a walk-off homer to lift Washington and force a Game 5.

Lynn threw 50 pitches in a three-inning relief appearance on Monday, which eliminated him as an option out of the 'pen in Game 3. In Lynn's absence on Wednesday, Matheny turned to rookie reliever Trevor Rosenthal in a situation that normally would have been Lynn's to cover.

Lynn seemed the likeliest candidate to slide into the rotation -- in place of Jaime Garcia, who has been sidelined with a left shoulder injury -- should the Cardinals advance to the NL Championship Series. In order to keep him open as an option to pitch early in the NLCS, Lynn likely won't be used for an extended relief appearance during the remainder of this series.

The short stint in Game 4 could almost serve as the equivalent of the side session Lynn would throw two days before a start. That means it would not affect Lynn's status for a potential NLCS start.

Cards' potential NLCS Game 1 starter up in the air

WASHINGTON -- While the Cardinals will have few complaints if they are able to dispose of the Nationals on Friday and advance to the National League Championship Series for the second straight season, the club will look back on Game 4 as a missed opportunity to earn that NLCS invite a day early.

The Cards' rotation could have clearly benefited from a quicker end to the series. With the Nationals forcing a Game 5, the Cardinals have no choice but to go back to Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright on Friday. That means that if the Redbirds take the series, Wainwright would not be able to pitch in the NLCS until Game 3, at the earliest.

The way the Cardinals aligned their rotation for the NL Division Series also precludes Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse from being available in Game 1 of the NLCS. As a result, the Cards would have to turn to Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller or Joe Kelly to take the ball in San Francisco.

Needing to keep one of the three ready as a potential Game 1 starter will affect how manager Mike Matheny utilizes his relievers in Friday's Game 5.

Worth noting

• Heather Westbrook, the wife of Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook, gave birth to the couple's fourth child on Thursday morning. Jake Westbrook traveled back to his home in Georgia to be at the hospital for the birth of son, Paxton Hall. A Cards representative confirmed that mother and son are doing well.