ST. LOUIS -- Until Adam Wainwright gets his pitches sharpened to the point that he can use them to dominate hitters as he did for all those years, he has taken a simpler approach to each of his outings. His fastball may not be dialed in, for now, and his curveball may not have the same bite as it has in the past, but his focus seems to have found the mark.
"Right now, it's all about wins for me," Wainwright said. "I mean, we've got to win the game when I take the mound until I get 100 percent back and ready to rock and roll like I'm going to."
In the wake of Monday night's 10-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, Wainwright's pitching seems to be methodically returning to form, but he has admitted it could take a little longer. His past two starts have been perhaps his sharpest, but that's not to say he has looked like the perennial Cy Young contender he was before the lost season of 2015. He still has a 6.68 ERA. When he gets rolling, if he does, he'll routinely give the St. Louis Cardinals more than the six innings he went Monday and more than the four strikeouts he managed.
There are other ways pitchers can help their team win. The easiest for National League pitchers, of course, is to hit well or, at a minimum, bunt well. Amazingly, Wainwright has had the key hit in each of his past two starts. He had a bases-clearing triple in Arizona last Wednesday and Monday he ignited a slumbering offense with a third-deck home run off Jeremy Hellickson.
"Every time I've come to the plate since I was 8 years old, I've dreamed about hitting a ball like that," Wainwright said. "So, I'm one for however many at-bats I've had in my life."
The home run swing, by the way, came on the 595th plate appearance of Wainwright's career. His past three have gone triple-double-home run. When manager Mike Matheny pinch-hit Randal Grichuk for him in the sixth inning, Wainwright seemed at a loss.
"He was extremely amazed I hit for him," Matheny said.
The Cardinals probably aren't going to be able to count on three RBIs a game from Wainwright for the remainder of his starts, but it's gratifying for them that they're starting to win them at least. After losing three of his first four starts, they have won two in a row. Wainwright is one of the veteran anchors of the team and the Cardinals seem to respond when he has success. Yadier Molina said he was "dancing around like a little kid" when Wainwright went deep.
"When he gets on the mound, he invests so much into our guys that there's just this buzz that is in our dugout, it's on the field," Matheny said. "Guys just love playing behind him. That's just the sign of a great teammate."
The Cardinals haven't been great so far this season. Monday's win just got them back to .500. But what they have been is balanced. With Aledmys Diaz batting .403 from the No. 7 or 8 spot in the lineup and others starting to get rolling, the Cardinals' lineup doesn't offer many opportunities for opposing pitchers to exhale. Monday, the Nos. 6-9 hitters accounted for eight of the team's 14 hits and all five of its home runs.
The Cardinals have hit 40 home runs, the most in the majors, but they are spreading them out. Nine players have at least three each and eight players have double-digit RBIs.
Grichuk didn't enter the game until the sixth because he was mired in an 0-for-20 funk, so seeing him single and hit a long home run to center field was gratifying for Matheny, as was Kolten Wong's home run. Both young players have been struggling for most of the month.
And the swarming approach of Monday night took the edge off one of the more chafing statistics of the young season. The Cardinals improved to 2-8 against teams with a winning record. The Phillies, who had ankle-high expectations coming into the season, entered Monday's game with a 15-10 record.