LOS ANGELES -- Insistent that their collective early-season struggles against left-handed pitchers would not extend into a year-long conundrum, the Cardinals backed up the statement with substance by teeing off against Dodgers lefty Chris Capuano on Friday night.
Facing the first of three consecutive southpaw starters, the Cardinals rode a homer and three RBIs each from Allen Craig and David Freese to a 7-0 win in front of 45,134 at Dodger Stadium. Lance Lynn battled through lower back and hamstring tightness to give the Cardinals six scoreless innings, becoming the third National League pitcher to record seven wins on the season.
The victory was the 16th in May for the Cardinals, who improved to an NL-best 31-16. Los Angeles continues to trend in the opposite direction, having dropped 14 games this month.
"I don't want to jinx us by saying that we're good to go now [against lefties], but we have a lot of confidence as a lineup against lefties and righties," said Craig, now 7-for-11 lifetime against Capuano. "Traditionally, we've done a pretty good job against lefties. I think, over the course of the season, that'll even out and we'll start to see some better performances."
This was certainly a decent first step.
After scoring only three runs in 28 innings against the last four lefty starters they had faced, the Cardinals had that total matched only 2 1/3 innings into Capuano's five-plus-inning outing. They would end up tagging the lefty for six runs (five earned) before his night was over, three of those scoring via home runs from Craig and Freese.
"We have a good lineup," said manager Mike Matheny, whose club entered the night with a .223 batting average against lefties this season. "I think they're going to hit lefties as well as they're going to hit righties when it comes down to it."
Making his first start since receiving stitches to close a cut on his right hand last Sunday, Freese doubled home the Cardinals' first run in the second. Jon Jay, who had reached on a fielding error by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, scored while barreling into the left shoulder of Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, who was blocking the plate with his body.
Ellis remained on the ground for several minutes and was tended to by a trainer, but stayed in to finish the game.
"I'm just happy nobody got hurt," Jay said. "It was just a last-minute play. I'm glad he's not hurt, and I'm glad nothing bad happened to either of us."
"I'm glad to see that A.J. is OK," added Matheny, an outspoken advocate for eliminating runner-to-catcher contact at home. "I haven't taken another look at it, but it looked like he was there at the plate taking it all up."
Craig, a Southern California native, delivered a two-run double in the third. Two innings later, he launched his third home run of the season, a solo shot into the left-center-field seats.
He now has 17 RBIs in May, a month in which Craig has batted .363. With the double, he improved to 18-for-44 (a .409 average) with runners in scoring position.
"I believe in myself that I'm going to get the job done and try not to take any opportunity for granted," Craig said. "I feel like I'm going to get the job done every time, though I understand that's not going to happen. But my focus is there."
Hours after having his stitches removed, Freese went deep in the sixth, doubling his season home run total and giving him his second multi-RBI game of the season. They came exactly one week apart.
"It's feeling good," Freese said of his swing. "I feel strong. Keeping my front side closed, which is helping me be quicker to the baseball. It's nice to join the fun."
While his season numbers are still suffering from a dismal April, Freese is now quietly hitting .298 in May. He lacks many extra-base hits, but has hit safely in 12 of his last 16 games.
"Just getting him some positive results can take us all a long way," Matheny said of Freese. "It's definitely something he's been waiting to happen."
Lynn (7-1) allowed only three baserunners -- none of which reached third -- while efficiently shutting the Dodgers down. He opened his start by throwing 37 consecutive fastballs while facing only one over the minimum through the first three innings.
He followed that with six straight curveballs before returning to a fastball-heavy game plan for the rest of his start. The Dodgers, now employing Mark McGwire as their hitting coach, never could adjust.
"He threw the ball extremely well," Ellis said. "He's got kind of a strange angle to his fastball. He was better than I saw him any time last year. He was on his A-game and he pitched well when his team gave him a lead."
Lynn may have had a chance to seek his first complete game if not for the lower back and hamstring discomfort that increasingly bothered him. It was no deterrent to his effectiveness, but with a 7-0 lead after the sixth, the Cardinals did not want to take the chance that the issue could worsen.
As a result, Matheny ended Lynn's night after 77 pitches.
"As the game went on, it just kept getting tighter and tighter and it kept getting harder to get looser," Lynn said. "I would have loved to go longer, and I wish I could have, but we made the decision that we'll let the bullpen finish it from there and we'll get ready for the next one. With the run support and the day off [on Thursday], it was a good time not to hurt myself and let some guys get some work."
Those other guys -- relievers Randy Choate, Seth Maness and Mitchell Boggs -- each followed with scoreless innings to preserve the Cardinals' Major League-best eighth shutout.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.