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Jon Lester allowed a hit on the seventh inning, Paul Goldschmidt hit a homerun, and the St. Louis Cardinals edged closer to the Cincinnati Reds in freefall in the NL wildcard race with a 3-1 win on Monday night.

The Cardinals closed within 2 1/2 games of Cincinnati for second place in the wild card. San Diego is between them.

The Reds have scored one point in each of their last three games – all losses – and have lost five of their last seven. Their top four hitters on the roster combined to finish 0-for-14.

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“We’re a good hitting team,” said Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer, who had Cincinnati’s only two hits, including his career-high 12th home run. “Good batting teams come out of the doldrums. There’s not a lot of pressure among the guys. We’ve had some really, really good shots in the last five games.”

Lester (5-6), on his sixth start for St. Louis since acquiring Washington on July 30, struck out 16 straight batters after allowing his only hit, Farmer’s first homer in the second inning.

“Obviously, we all know what’s in store for us,” Lester said. “We have a lot of games against these guys and the (top tier) Brewers coming up. Pitching well is a great feeling. Doing it against a team you’re trying to chase is even better.”

The veteran left-hander walked two goals and struck out five in 6 1/3 innings, earning his fourth straight win after losing his first two starts with the Cardinals.

Right fielder Dylan Carlson, who helped Joey Votto’s slippery flyball catch in right center field in the fourth quarter, described Lester’s work as “brilliant.”

“He had his playing face and he had what it takes to match the high intensity he brought to the game,” said St. Louis coach Mike Shildt. “He changed gears well and had the right curve ball in play. He then kept an imbalance. He had them a bit ahead. He was great to get into the seventh.”

TJ McFarland allowed a hit in 1 1/3 of an inning and Luis Garcia had the last goal in the eighth before Giovanny Gallegos pitched the ninth for his third save.

The Cardinals only needed two hitters to take a 2-0 lead. Luis Castillo (7-14) led reigning National League Player of the Week Tommy Edman to lead the game. Goldschmidt followed with an opposite homer on the right, his 22nd of the season and 11th in 41 career games at Great American Ball Park.

“Luis got a little too much of the plate for a good hitter,” said Reds manager David Bell. “Other than that, he was exceptional.”

St. Louis added a run in the sixth when Carlson doubled up and then scored on dribbler Tyler O’Neill to the third baseline.

The Farmer Tour was his 12th of the season, adding to his career high in one season. He broke a 0 for 14 slump.

Castillo lasted six innings, allowing five hits and three runs with two walks and eight strikeouts. He’s lost four of his last five starts after three straight wins.

REMEMBER TIME

A young fan leaned into the seat in front of him with his black glove to catch Farmer’s home run on the fly and was rewarded with high-fives from fans near him.

VOTING ON VERGE

Votto needs a homerun to reach 324 in his career and tie Hall of Famer Frank Robinson for second on Cincinnati’s career homerun list. Johnny Bench leads with 389.

TRAINERS ‘ROOM

Reds: RHP Brad Brach (impact on right shoulder) began a rehabilitation mission at Triple-A Louisville on Monday. He has been on the injured list since August 8.

FOLLOWING

Cardinals: RHP Miles Mikolas (0-1) is expected to make his fourth start of the season and his second since returning from his second stint on the injured list (right forearm).

Reds: RHP Sonny Gray (6-6) has had a season-high 13 straight scoreless innings in his last two starts.


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