ST. LOUIS — On one hand, sweeping the San Diego Padres at home doesn’t sound like a big deal when you’re the St. Louis Cardinals, who have been to the National League playoffs five straight years and 12 of the last 16.
On the other hand, when you entered the four-game series with a rotten 20-28 home record and hadn’t won four straight home games all year, sweeping San Diego is a big deal.
"We haven’t played well at home," St. Louis starting pitcher Adam Wainwright said. "We’re ready for a big (winning) streak here. We’re ready to run off about a 12-spot."
The Cardinals can add to this success and make up ground on two fronts in the playoff chase Friday night when they welcome the Los Angeles Dodgers to Busch Stadium for a three-game weekend series.
Thursday night’s 6-5 win over the Padres, who led 5-1 after 7 1/2 innings, boosted St. Louis to 51-44 for the year, tying its high-water mark of seven games over .500. It also kept it within a game of Miami for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
What’s more, the Cardinals also pulled within 6 1/2 games of the idle Chicago Cubs for first place in the NL Central, the closest they’ve been since beating them 4-3 on May 23 to move within six games of first.
So in a season largely bereft of team accomplishments, forgive St. Louis for feeling good about itself for a moment or two.
"Who said I was joking?" kidded Wainwright when asked about joking about a 12-spot. "You never know what’s going to be your catapult. I just know that we haven’t had a good long winning streak in a while, and it’s time for it."
Los Angeles (54-43) owns the NL’s first wild-card spot by a game over Miami and comes to town fresh off winning two of three at NL East leader Washington, besting previously unbeaten Stephen Strasburg 6-3 Thursday.
The Dodgers will have a hot pitcher taking the mound on a hot night, as temperatures might be close to 100 degrees at first pitch. Brandon McCarthy (2-0, 1.69 ERA in three starts this season) is coming off six shutout innings Saturday at Arizona, allowing just three hits and fanning eight as he got a no-decision in a 2-1, 12-inning loss.
He’ll be opposed by Michael Wacha (5-7, 4.55), who lasted just four-plus innings and 101 pitches Sunday in a no-decision outing against Miami. Wacha, who had his pitch count jacked up by 25 foul balls, gave up seven hits and three runs, walking two and fanning four.
Wacha is 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA in three career starts against Los Angeles, absorbing an 8-4 loss on May 13. He’ll have to be careful against Justin Turner, who homered twice and drove in five runs against Strasburg on Thursday, giving him six homers and 16 RBIs in 16 games this month.
"I’m definitely feeling comfortable again," Turner said. "I feel good and am obviously getting better results."