Cardinals continue pursuit of NL wild-card spot

ST. LOUIS — Tuesday night's 12-5 victory for the St. Louis Cardinals over the Cincinnati Reds produced one of the best moments of the season when Aledmys Diaz, playing his first game since the death of close friend Jose Fernandez, whacked a grand slam.

But it didn't help St. Louis gain ground on the New York Mets or San Francisco Giants in the National League wild-card race. New York and San Francisco won their games easily Tuesday night, leaving the Cardinals (82-75) a game back of the Giants and 1 1/2 behind the Mets with five contests remaining.

And now St. Louis faces Cincinnati's top pitchers in the series' final two games, beginning Wednesday night when the Reds (66-91) send Anthony DeSclafani to the hill opposite old teammate Mike Leake.

DeSclafani (8-5, 3.38 ERA) is 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA in six career outings against the Cardinals, although he's lost his last three starts, allowing 14 runs over 16 innings and giving up four homers.

Leake's next good outing against Cincinnati, the team with whom he pitched the first five-plus years of his big league career, will be his first. The Reds rapped Leake (9-11, 4.72) around to the tune of a .343 average in three starts this year.

Leake, whose ERA against Cincinnati is 8.31 this season, is coming off a 5-0 loss Friday at the Chicago Cubs, giving up five runs in 3 1/3 innings thanks in part to the shaky defense that's been a St. Louis pitfall all year.

The teams have exchanged blowout wins in the series' first two games. The Reds stomped the Cardinals 15-2 on Monday night before St. Louis gained revenge by belting five homers Tuesday night.

“I didn't anticipate that kind of vengeance. We beat them by 13 but that doesn't mean we have to lose to them the next game,” Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said. “I knew they wouldn't sit on their hands and wait to get beat. We got into some really bad counts and they just teed off on some fastballs.”

Although it hasn't happened quite as much to the Reds the second half of the season, Tuesday night was a bad flashback to the season's first three months that paved the way for them to set an all-time MLB record for most homers allowed in a year. They're at 251 with five games left.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals added to their NL home run lead and have 218 with five games left. Matt Carpenter's 20th homer in the third inning made him the fifth player to reach 20 this year, tying a club record.

Tuesday night's game also marked the first time since April 21, 2004 that they homered for the cycle. Besides Diaz's emotional slam, Jhonny Peralta walloped a three-run shot, Matt Adams pinch-hit a two-run blast and Randal Grichuk joined Carpenter in the solo club.

St. Louis might need to keep hitting at that rate to hold off Cincinnati's lineup.

“They aren't making it easy for us,” said Adam Wainwright, who picked up the win Tuesday night. “They're working counts, fouling off tough pitches. That's a good lineup over there.”