Cardinals keep pace in NL Central race

The St. Louis Cardinals woke up on Saturday in an unfamiliar position. For the first time since the morning of April 30, they did not own at least a share of first place in the NL Central.

The Redbirds then went out and did their best to erase the one-game deficit in the standings with a 7-1 rout of the Oakland Athletics on Saturday afternoon.

The six-run victory increased their MLB-best run differential to a ridiculous +114, 50 runs better than the next-highest NL team. It is also the highest run differential for any Cardinals team through 80 games since 1944 (+174). Good news for Cards fans – that 1944 squad won 105 games and the World Series.

Highest Run Differential Thru 80 Games
Cardinals Since 1900

Though the Cardinals have struggled against AL teams with a 5-6 interleague record, they have dominated their NL Central opponents.

St. Louis is 20-10 (.667) within the division, the best intra-division record by any NL team this season.

The victory also continued a trend of success for the Cards away from Busch Stadium this season.

They are now an MLB-best 27-15 on the road, a significant advantage over the two other NL Central teams fighting for first place -- the Pittsburgh Pirates (23-17) and Cincinnati Reds (19-21 entering Saturday).

The Cardinals likely felt good about their chances of winning Saturday with their ace Adam Wainwright on the mound. St. Louis has now won the last nine road games started by Wainwright, the longest active streak in the majors, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

How Wainwright Won

Wainwright threw his fastball just 31 percent of the time against the A’s, his third-lowest rate of the season, but it was still a dominant out-pitch for him this afternoon.

His 35 fastballs netted him a season-high 13 outs, with just two baserunners allowed. Five of his eight strikeouts came via his heater, matching a season-high. And Wainwright got the A’s to whiff on 26 percent of their swings at the pitch, his second-best fastball swing-and-miss rate in 2013.

He had success pitching away against the A’s, who went 0-for-12 with six strikeouts and six groundouts in at-bats ending in a pitch on the outer third of the strike zone or off the outside corner.

Cy Wainwright?

Wainwright threw his MLB-leading fourth complete game of the year, allowing only a single run in the ninth inning. He also tied Jordan Zimmerman for the NL lead with his 11th win of the season.

The accolades for Wainwright don’t end there. He also ranks in the top five in the league in innings, strikeout-to-walk ratio, WAR, WHIP and ERA -- making a strong case for the NL Cy Young Award as we near the half-way point of the season.

Gregg Found contributed to this post