The St. Louis Cardinals were seeking some traction with their offense and their pitching staff going in a four-game weekend series against the NL Central rival Cincinnati Reds.
They are certainly finding it and a lot more.
The Cardinals also gaining momentum and some obvious confidence, something the perennial playoff contenders looked to be missing while losing seven of their first 12 games.
The Cardinals will send ace Carlos Martinez to the mound Sunday at Great American Ball Park to try to finish sweeping a four-game series against the struggling Reds.
St. Louis has outscored the Reds 24-8 in the series. They won 6-1 Saturday behind utility man Greg Garcia's two home runs, Tommy Pham's three hits and starter Miles Mikolas' seven effective innings of one-run pitching.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny marveled how effective Garcia is coming off the bench. Garcia, who rarely plays against left-handers, had never had a multiple-homer game or homered off a left-hander until he went deep twice against Reds left-hander Brandon Finnegan, raising his average to .333.
"It's hard to explain how hard that is to do," Matheny said of Garcia managing to stay sharp despite limited playing time and at-bats. "Wow. Great at-bats. He's impressive, how he stays sharp and how he's ready to go."
Garcia's big day was the latest addition to a Cardinals offense that has produced 33 hits -- 15 for extra bases -- against the Reds this weekend.
Their three wins in Cincinnati have pushed the Cardinals over .500 for the first time this season. The Cardinals also dropped the Reds to 2-12 with seven consecutive losses in which they've been outscored 45-17.
It wasn't supposed to be nearly this bad for the Reds, even though they're coming off three consecutive last-place seasons in which they averaged 95 losses. Now, they're off to their worst start in 87 years, or since they also were 2-12 in 1931, when they lost 96 times during a 154-game season.
Reds manager Bryan Price wasn't about to lay blame on Finnegan, who was making his first start of the season, but it's obvious he expected more from the left-hander.
Finnegan (0-1) labored through 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs and six hits, walking four and giving up three two stolen bases -- two to Pham, who is hitting .327.
"He wasn't real sharp. He had a hard time getting things going," Price said. "He was pretty deliberate to the plate and they were able to take advantage of that. I anticipate him getting better, but I was expecting him to be more sharp."
Price will send his top starter, Homer Bailey (0-2, 3.24 ERA) to the mound Sunday to try to salvage the final game of the series, but the right-hander doesn't have a good track record against the Cardinals, a team he hasn't beaten since May 23, 2014.
Bailey was 0-2 with 14 earned runs allowed in 7 1/3 innings against St. Louis last season and is 0-3 against them since 2015. He is 6-13 with a 5.86 ERA against the Cardinals overall in 23 career starts.
Bailey allowed one run on two hits in six innings and took a no-decision in a 6-1 loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday. He pitched 5 1/3 hitless innings and struck out seven.
"Homer did a spectacular job," Price said. "That's a big step for him."
Matt Carpenter (18-for-33), Yadier Molina (15-for-39, three home runs, 6 RBIs) and Kolten Wong (6-for-12) have done considerable damage against Bailey.
Martinez has had more success against the Reds, going 6-3 with a 3.84 ERA in 19 appearances (eight starts), although he was only 1-2 against them last season. Martinez (1-1, 2.41 ERA, 9.16 strikeouts per nine innings) is coming off a 5-3 victory Tuesday over the Milwaukee Brewers in which he allowed one run over six innings.
"Did you see my new pitch?" Martinez said to reporters after that outing.
Martinez already threw four-seam and two-seam fastballs but now, at the suggestion of Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright, is also throwing a cut fastball that's proving to be effective against left-handed hitters. He threw it an estimated 21 times against the Brewers.