In the second week of April, the Reds broke open the season series with the Cardinals with a 13-4 victory in St. Louis. But the momentum didn't carry far as the Cardinals won seven of the next 10 games versus Cincinnati, including four lopsided wins by seven or more runs.
"The game we pounded on them," manager Dusty Baker said, "it seems like it [ticked] them off."
While the Cardinals came out with yet another big win Friday, the Reds turned the tables to even the series with an 8-3 victory on Saturday at Great American Ball Park. The Reds now have a chance to secure a series victory over the Cardinals on Sunday, something Cincinnati hasn't been able to achieve in the last five meetings between these teams.
"We need to beat these Cardinals because, shoot, we're 3-7 against them," Baker said before Saturday's win. "We've had quite a few games we just kind of had them thinking they could throw their gloves out there and beat us."
The Reds will try to earn the series win against right-hander Lance Lynn. Lynn is a perfect 2-0 in his career against Cincinnati with a 3.96 ERA over 25 innings. The righty has had mixed results this season against the division rivals, allowing five earned runs in 12 frames.
While the Cardinals bounced out of their slump at the plate -- pushing just 10 runners across over seven consecutive losses -- to score 13 runs in each of their two victories Thursday and Friday, they couldn't muster the same offensive fireworks Saturday.
"It's such a fine line between doing things right and having production and doing things right and not having production and we were just in a rut where it wasn't going our way," manager Mike Matheny said Saturday afternoon. "It could've really compounded if the guys would've overreacted, but they didn't. We stuck with it and obviously you can tell because of how things have turned."
Reds: Leake looks for team-best 11th win
Mike Leake will be searching for his 11th victory when he takes the mound for the Reds on Sunday. The right-hander is currently tied with Mat Latos for a team-high 10 victories and has a 2.59 ERA to pair with it.
In his three starts in the second half, Leake is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA and is coming off a dominant win over the Padres in which he tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and two walks while fanning five. The righty doesn't often boast high strikeout totals, but still likes to pound the strike zone.
"If he can get guys out within the first three pitches, that's when he's really going good and going deep into games," Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "He's had some starts where he's went deep into the game and still had 80-some pitches in the seventh, eighth inning, and that's what the goal is -- to go deep in the game and put up a good quality start. He's been able to do that."
Cardinals: Struggling Carpenter hopes to get on track
Like many of his teammates, spare for the 13-inning explosions Thursday and Friday, Matt Carpenter has been slumping at the plate. After Saturday's loss to the Reds, Carpenter is in a 1-for-31 rut which has lowered his average to .304 from .323. Matheny gave his All-Star second baseman a day off and instructed him to take a step back and take his mind off baseball.
"It's a huge learning opportunity," Matheny said. "It's a huge chance for him to figure out what he has to do to bounce back from it. It's going to happen again if he stays in this game as long as I think he's going to. He's going to continue to have to figure out ways to right the ship and it usually comes from hard work and from knowing when to slow down and back off."
Carpenter entered the game in the sixth inning Saturday. He grounded out to second base in his first at-bat, but picked up an RBI as David Freese reached home. His second at-bat was a strikeout, keeping Carpenter hitless over his last five games, his longest streak of the season.
• Lynn has held his opponents to eight hits and two runs over 13 innings in his last two outings.
• Reds righty Jonathan Broxton is likely a few days away from returning to the Cincinnati bullpen as he recovers from a flexor mass strain in his right elbow. Broxton, who has been on the disabled list since mid-June, tossed a 15-pitch simulated outing at Great American Ball Park on Saturday.
• Cardinals catcher Rob Johnson went 0-for-3 with an RBI and a walk in his first start since August 2012 when he was with the Mets. With a day game Sunday and All-Star Yadier Molina on the disabled list, Matheny went with Johnson to keep Molina's backup, Tony Cruz, fresh.
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.