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ATLANTA • The game was closer than the score would indicate, and now the Cardinals may be closer than the standings suggest.

The Cardinals have yet to lose at Atlanta's 2-year-old SunTrust Park after an 8-1 rout of the Braves on Tuesday. The Cardinals' third consecutive victory continued to set the pace in the wild-card standings, forcing the Dodgers or Rockies to keep up later in the evening. The win also cut into the Brewers' lead for the first wild-card berth.

Milwaukee's moved them to two ahead of the Cardinals.

The teams have three games remaining against each other.

Paul DeJong launched his 19th homer of the season to wrench back the lead for the Cardinals in the fourth inning. They walked away with the game from there. DeJong finished with three RBIs to give him 43 since the All-Star break. Only two players in the National League have had more. Yadier Molina added a bases-clearing single as the Cardinals opened the game with six runs in their final two at-bats.

Marcell Ozuna's RBI double expanded the lead in the ninth inning.

Austin Gomber piched five solid innings and allowed one run on six hits. The only run he allowed was a homer to Ronald Acuna Jr. In the third inning, Gomber (6-1) walked two and Atlanta had the bases loaded with two outs. He got a lineout to end the inning, and Atlanta rarely threatened from there.

***

Bader blasts his way back into Cardinals lineup

Whether it was the slow settling of his batting average during the home stand or the rash of strikeouts, Harrison Bader found himself in the dugout to start Monday's game at SunTrust Park.

That's not likely to happen much, if at all, from here.

The Cardinals' glove-gifted rookie came off the bench to smack a three-run homer that hoisted the Cardinals toward their victory against Atlanta and helped the lineup stay ahead of any Braves' rally. Bader also had a running catch late in the game that helped cinch the 11-6 victory. All of that followed Yairo Munoz getting the start at a position he used to play often, but has not regularly this season.

He committed two errors in the same inning that resulted in two runs and momentarily brought Atlanta back into the game.

While capable of starting every game because of the defense he brings at center, Bader has been searching for his swing for several weeks. Like the Cardinals, Bader reached mid-August at his peak. He boasted a .286 average, was finding ways on base and then using his speed around the bases, and, during a 16-game stretch, had hit .365 with a .424 on-base percentage and a whopping 1.058 OPS. The Cardinals were 13-3 in those 16 games.

In the month since he's hit around .215 and this past home stand saw his average sink into a cloud of Ks.

He played every game of the home stand and hit .136 with more strikeouts (11) than total bases (four) and a .192 on-base percentage.

The game Monday was set up as a chance to buy the center fielder a break, perhaps even a work day near the cage. He said afterward that earlier in the season he might have groped for a way to get ready for a late-game situation, for a pinch-hit at-bat. But this late, with this much playing time on his baseball card, he had a routine and he was ready. He popped his 11th home run of the season.

He's starting Tuesday.

He'll back lefty Austin Gomber, who is coming off his first loss in the majors. Gomber allowed seven runs on nine hits in three innings against the Dodgers. He faced only 18 hitters in the game, and nearly half of them scored against him -- all while he did not allow a home run.

Awaiting Gomber is one of the league's top lineups against lefties. Only the Colorado Rockies, boosted by their home ballpark in Denver and the lefties scattered through their division, have a better OPS against lefthanded pitchers this season in the National League. The Braves have a .785 OPS vs. lefties, and their .271 average against lefties is the third-best in the majors.

Some notes from pregame access:

  • Bud Norris is not available again Tuesday, and the Cardinals are leaning toward avoiding him until Friday. That would give him two more days off to rest the finger that fell apart and the hamstring and the hip.
  • The pitching rotation for the Giants' series will be John Gant on Friday, Adam Wainwright on Saturday, and then Miles Mikolas at Sunday. That's a five-man rotation.
  • Daniel Poncedeleon was available out of the bullpen Monday and will be all week as the Cardinals shift out of the six-man rotation.

Here's the lineup for the Cardinals:

  1. Matt Carpenter, 1B
  2. Jose Martinez, RF
  3. Paul DeJong, SS
  4. Marcell Ozuna, LF
  5. Jedd Gyorko, 3B
  6. Yadier Molina, C
  7. Kolten Wong, 2B
  8. Harrison Bader, CF
  9. Austin Gomber, LF

Check back throughout the evening here at Cardinal Beat and STLtoday.com for any news, notes, or anecdotes that should surface from Cobb County, Ga. 

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Derrick Goold is the lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and past president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.