ST. LOUIS -- Now that's more like it.
A tough road trip in the rear-view mirror, the surging St. Louis Cardinals completed an impressive homestand Thursday afternoon with a 7-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cardinals followed up a depressing 1-5 road trip with a 6-1 week at Busch Stadium that featured a three-game sweep of the rival Chicago Cubs and three wins in four games against the NL West contending Dodgers.
"You look at our lineup and our rotation and the arms we have in the bullpen, there's no reason we cant compete with anybody," said reliever Mitchell Boggs. "And we should expect that. I think every single guy in this clubhouse realizes that and hopefully we can take advantage of these next few months."
Jake Westbrook allowed three earned runs in seven innings to pick up his ninth win of the season. And he continued a remarkable run of starting pitching for the Cardinals, who have seen their starters go at least six innings in 21 straight games.
Boggs pitched a scoreless eighth inning for his 18th consecutive scoreless outing and closer Jason Motte picked up his 22nd save by striking out the side in the ninth.
Solid starting pitching and a rejuvenated bullpen -- that hasn't allowed a run in eight of the last nine games -- has provided the Cardinals a chance to win nearly every game this month. And they are starting to take advantage of it.
"Especially after the road trip we had, we were in a lot of ballgames against the Reds and in Milwaukee as well and just came out on the short end," Westbrook said. "But we did a good job on this homestand of taking it to some guys and it's a good stretch for us. Hopefully we can ride this momentum into the road trip.
"This past homestand was definitely what we feel like we're capable of doing and it's just a matter of staying consistent and continuing to do it."
The Cardinals went just 8-for-51 with runners in scoring position during their six-game road swing to start the second half of the All-Star break. They were swept in a three-game series at division-leading Cincinnati and lost two of three in Milwaukee.
They scored three runs or less in all six games, something they've done just five time since 2000. And the pitching wasn't the problem. All five losses were winnable games and a big hit here or a break there could have meant a 5-1 trip instead of 1-5.
But the Cardinals returned home with a five game deficit in the standings and urgency to get things turned around. They did just that, combining all aspects of their game together for as impressive of a stretch as they've had in several weeks.
"We're getting timely hits," said third baseman David Freese. "I think that's key. We haven't used that term in a while but you get timely hits and you have pitching and defense, that's the recipe for success. To come back here after that road trip and kind of come together a little bit, it feels good.
"I hope we get to see a lot of this. Just getting a W' was huge. You win ballgames, you have a chance to get in the postseason and it doesn't really matter how you do it. Being able to play defense, pitch and hit and get timely hits, that's going to raise your chances."
Freese was right in the middle of the offensive action for the Cardinals Thursday. He went 3-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored before leaving the game with calf cramps that he didn't seem to be concerned with after the game.
The Cardinals scored two runs in the fourth inning on four consecutive hits from Allen Craig, Freese, Matt Carpenter and Tony Cruz. After the Dodgers answered with four runs in the top of the fifth to take a 4-2 lead, the home team wasted little time responding again.
Craig provided an RBI single, Freese followed with a two-run blooper to right and Cruz added his second run-scoring hit to put the Cardinals back up 6-4. Matt Holliday rounded out the scoring with a long solo home run to center in the seventh.
Each of the eight starting position players had at least one hit. The Cardinals had a season-high 18 hits overall and went 10-for-21 with runners on base.
The Cardinals still trail the Reds by 5.5 games in the division but begin a six-game road trip to Chicago and Colorado. They then return home to face Milwaukee, giving them a stretch of nine winnable games to keep the momentum going.
"We did have a nice homestand and nice for the crowds that showed up to kind of change the momentum from what we had on the road," said manager Mike Matheny. "That road trip was tough but we were real close from having some things go right there as well. Hopefully we have a positive thing going and we can build on that now. "
Added Holliday, "We have to win a lot of games. It's big but we have to keep winning. We are playing well and we have to keep playing well."
The Cardinals should do plenty of winning should they continue to play like they did the past week.