For each of the past two seasons, Lance Lynn has been haunted by fading performances in the second half. The right-hander's most recent start -- his first since the All-Star break -- showed indications that he could better handle the trials of a full season this time around.
On Friday, Lynn held the Dodgers to two runs over six strong innings of work, giving up four hits while recording nine strikeouts, a figure he last reached on April 24. And though he has tended to show wear down the stretch, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny believes the 27-year-old has grown from both a physical and mental standpoint.
"I think he's a similar guy, but maybe a little more refined," Matheny said. "I think he knows himself better. I think last year at this time of the year, we were probably talking about some of the inconsistencies we'd see, whether it was his demeanor on the mound or his pace. ... He was figuring out who he was. He's got a much better feel of the pitcher that he wants to be."
When Lynn faces the Rays on Wednesday, he will also have a pivotal stage on which to keep proving himself. After Tuesday's loss, the Cardinals sit 1 1/2 games behind the division-leading Brewers, with the Pirates and Reds no further than three behind St. Louis in what has become a tight National League Central race, thereby magnifying each win and loss.
Standing in the Cards' way on Wednesday will be Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Cobb, who has quietly gone 2-0 with a 3.63 ERA in three July starts after struggling to find consistency in his mechanics through parts of May and June. His last outing saw him surrender two runs on five hits over 5 2/3 innings against the Twins.
"The more times I run out there," Cobb said, "the more info I'm going to gather from what my pitches are doing. I'm still searching to get in that groove to where I'm just thinking about the pitch and that's it."
Cardinals: Siegrist could return Wednesday
Left-hander Kevin Siegrist could potentially be activated from the 15-day disabled list ahead of Wednesday's series finale against the Rays, said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak.
Siegrist worked a 1 1/3-inning rehab appearance for Double-A Springfield on Monday. He has scattered four hits and three walks over 4 2/3 scoreless innings across five rehab outings since hurting his left forearm on May 24 -- an injury that was further complicated by nerve problems that caused shoulder pain.
"This was a shocker to me," Siegrist said of the length of recovery. "Everything just kept spiraling a little bit. But I got everything under control, and it feels good. I couldn't wait to get back. It was probably the most frustrating thing I could go through. You just want to get back and help the team out any way you can."
Rays: Rebound hopes high in Tampa Bay
When the Rays squared off against St. Louis earlier this season, they were a season-worst 18 games below the .500 mark. Entering Wednesday, the club finds itself in the midst of a season-high six-game winning streak while going 12-4 since July 1.
For a team that has won at least 90 games in each of the past four seasons, both players and coaches remain confident that the Rays possess the ability to vault themselves back into the thick of the playoff race.
"We've been playing September baseball for the last month," manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm telling you, when I'm doing my prep work, and I was doing it today, it does feel like it's September to me because we dug ourselves such a big hole. Our goal is to get out of it, obviously, and then do something nobody has ever done before us. It has to happen one day at a time, and beyond that one series at a time. "
• The Cardinals and Rays are meeting for just the 13th time in their history on Wednesday. St. Louis holds a 7-5 edge in the all-time series, though Tampa Bay has taken two of three so far this season.
• Tampa Bay entered Wednesday riding a seven-game road winning streak and is now 15-3 over its last three road trips.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.