ST. LOUIS — Optimism abounded for the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday that their offensive breakout against Milwaukee would carry over into their nine-game road trip.
St. Louis (15-14), which pounded the Brewers 9-3 to complete a 3-3 homestand, will take its act to Wrigley Field in Chicago at 1:20 p.m. Friday for the opener of a three-game series against the last-place Cubs (9-17).
"We believe (this) could be the launching point for an extended stretch of really good baseball," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after his club collected 13 hits, four of them by Allen Craig. "That's a conversation that keeps happening here. We get one (victory) and that's the one that's going to get us going. That's the right mentality.
"It's not just the offense. It's all the way around. It's crisp defense. It's getting the big out from the mound. All those things are something we haven't seen on a consistent basis and something that we're realizing if we (are able) to do what we want to do, it's just going to have to happen night in and night out here for a while. We're set and we're due for a good long run."
That's what Adam Wainwright has been on this season. Wainwright (5-1, 1.20 ERA) has been the National League's Cy Young Award winner for the first month of the season.
Wainwright has allowed just 24 hits and 11 walks in 45 innings. He hasn't allowed a run in 25 consecutive innings, dating to April 12 against the Cubs. In his six starts, Wainwright has thrown seven innings four times and eight and nine innings once apiece.
Wainwright has evolved into a different pitcher this season. He's always been effective, but this year he's finding ways to take that to another level, using a hitter's reaction to determine what pitch to throw next.
Wainwright also is changing speeds within an at-bat more than ever before, sometimes as much as 25-mph --up or down --from one pitch to the next.
"I feel like I've got a master plan," said Wainwright, who is 9-6 with a 4.28 ERA in 32 games and 23 starts in his career against the Cubs. "I can almost hear the music of the game in my head. It's kind of like a symphony I can see it, and I'm just going to try to keep playing the music.
"It's certainly the strongest mentally that I've felt ever in my life. I have total confidence in every pitch."
Wainwright regularly alters his release point, something he began toying with in 2012 when he returned from Tommy John surgery with a below-average fastball and curveball.
"I started changing my delivery speeds, and last year I kind of grew on that a little bit and grew to love the idea of pitching all the time -- not just throwing the pitch, but changing my deliveries and changing my speeds, keeping the hitter off balance every way I can," he said. "And this year, I'm doing all that stuff as well as adding some different variety of pitchers."
Wainwright will be opposed by the Cubs' Travis Wood (1-3, 3.52 ERA), who is 3-5 with a 5.16 ERA in 11 career starts against the Cardinals.
In the other two games of the series, Michael Wacha (2-2, 2.48 ERA) will pitch against Jake Arrieta (first start) at 12:05 p.m. Saturday, and Lance Lynn (4-1, 3.60 ERA) will pitch against Jason Hammel (4-1, 2.08 ERA) at 7 p.m. Sunday.
The trip also includes three-game stops in Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
Right fielder Craig had his best game of the season Wednesday, going 4-for-5 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs to lift his average from .192 to .220.
Craig has driven in at least one run in the last four games, totaling six. And he's seen other hitters getting hot at the same time, namely left fielder Matt Holliday, who is 10-for-24 (.417) with three doubles, one homer and six RBIs in his last six games.
In that same span, shortstop Jhonny Peralta is 8-for-24 (.333) with two homers and four RBIs. And center fielder Jon Jay had a strong performance Wednesday with three hits, two of them doubles, and an RBI.
How much can the hitting carry over to the road trip?
"Hopefully, a lot if we can get things going and just play better as a team," Craig said. "I think the talent's there. We're working hard. The results haven't been there. But I think we're going to start playing a little better."
First baseman Matt Adams, who hit a three-run homer to put the Cardinals ahead in the third inning Wednesday, concurred.
"We're playing good ball," he said. "If we continue to play like we did the last couple of days, I think we'll be fine."