It's been so far, so good for the 2011 World Series winners, whose stretch of 27 straight games against division opponents continues Tuesday night against the Reds at Busch Stadium.
Following a single game against the Marlins to begin the year, the Cardinals have taken two of three in each of their past three series: against the defending-division-champion Brewers, the Reds and the Cubs. That leaves them 7-3 and ahead of Milwaukee and Cincinnati -- the division's other favorites -- who both are off to 4-6 starts.
"I think everybody is very aware that Milwaukee and Cincinnati were going to be very strong," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's going to be typical NL Central. It's going to be a fight. I don't think we went into this taking anybody for granted. All the teams have proven that they're going to be in this thing."
The opener of the three-game series will feature two pitchers facing clubs for the second time already this season.
Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse, who spent parts of two seasons with the Reds earlier in his career, is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in two starts. The veteran is 3-3 with a 3.83 ERA in nine starts against Cincinnati and beat the Reds on April 10 by holding them to one run on four hits in six innings.
Reds righty Johnny Cueto (1-0, 2.25) took a no-decision against the Cardinals on April 11, allowing three runs on seven hits in five innings.
Cueto's troubles seemed to stem from a 14-pitch at-bat against St. Louis outfielder Erik Komatsu in the third. Two batters later, Rafael Furcal hit an RBI triple, and Jon Jay followed with a two-run homer for the only runs against Cueto.
"I think Komatsu took a lot out of him," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Reds: Offense shows signs of life
Cincinnati entered Sunday's game at Washington on a three-game losing streak. A big reason was an offensive funk that had the Reds batting .191 as a team, including .138 with runners in scoring position.
But the Reds broke out a bit in their 8-5 series-ending win over the Nationals on Sunday, going 13-for-44 (.295), including 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
With the game tied 5-5 in the 11th inning, Joey Votto delivered a two-run go-ahead double, and Scott Rolen followed with an RBI single.
"We get paid to win, that's what we think about," said outfielder Jay Bruce, who went 0-for-5 with a walk and a run scored. "We need to do that. We need to do a batter job. We've always hit, and I'm not worried about it."
Second baseman Brandon Phillips ended a five-game absence from the starting lineup on Sunday. Phillips went 1-for-4 in the leadoff spot, but was removed for a pinch-runner after a ninth-inning double.
Cardinals: Happy returns on the way?
First baseman Lance Berkman has missed the Cardinals' last four games with a left calf strain, while third baseman David Freese has sat out the last two with right ring finger irritation.
Neither played in Sunday's 10-3 win over the Cubs, but both were available to pinch-hit, perhaps signaling they will be ready to return to the lineup Tuesday. Freese was off to a particularly hot start, batting .406 with three home runs and 11 RBIs.
Berkman, who is batting .375 (6-for-16), tested his calf running on Sunday and said he felt fine, although he joked about losing his spot after Matt Carpanter's four-hit, five-RBI game at first base.
"Yeah, if they need me, I'll be available," Berkman said. "They certainly didn't need me this weekend."
In other health news, right fielder Carlos Beltran was hit by a pitch in the second inning of Sunday's game and left after the fifth inning with right forearm tightness. He is day to day.
"Where it hit him, I think it's more muscular than anything involving the bone," Matheny said. "We'll keep an eye and add him to that list that we'll keep watching."
Infielder/outfielder Skip Schumaker, on the disabled list with injury to his right oblique, began a rehab assignment for Triple-A Memphis on Sunday. He started at second base for the Redbirds against Oklahoma City and went 0-for-2 with a walk while batting in the No. 2 spot.
Jay has enjoyed great success against Cueto in 20 plate appearances, going 9-for-18 with a double, three homers and seven RBIs.
The Reds won nine of 15 against the Cardinals last season, but St. Louis took five of nine at Busch Stadium.