On the eve of the Reds’ arrival at Busch Stadium for a series that could have upended the order atop the National League Central Cardinals third baseman David Freese considered his club.

The Cardinals had gone through an extended August funk a slog through a feisty part of the season that saw them play a haphazard style that was as unseasonable for the Cardinals as the cool weather was for the summer.

Three wins in four days against Atlanta changed the club’s barometer.

“We’re playing our best” Freese surmised “against the best teams.”

And it’s come at the best time.

The Cardinals paired a quality start from Joe Kelly with a cascade of hits and a lockdown bullpen to quiet Cincinnati 6-1 at Busch on Tuesday. The Cardinals already 10-4 this season against the third-place Reds can complete a sweep of the series with ace Adam Wainwright scheduled to start tonight. The Cardinals opened up a 4½-game lead on the Reds. The crowd at Busch cheered after the Cardinals added a run in the seventh inning because the Pirates’ loss went final giving the Cardinals clearance to take a 1½-game gap on second-place Pittsburgh.

First is a familiar place and their play has a familiar feel.

“This is the team that I’ve seen for the bulk of the season” said manager Mike Matheny whose club has won nine of its past 11 games including five of six from two of the National League’s playoff-racing clubs. “This is the team that I believe these guys expect us to be every time we walk out of the dugout.”

Carlos Beltran scored twice Matt Carpenter became the first player in the majors with 100 runs this season and Allen Craig edged closer to 100 RBIs with his 96th of the season. When he wasn’t taking a beating from foul balls and pitches left fielder Matt Holliday had two hits and for the seventh consecutive game an RBI. Twice in the game Holliday fouled a pitch of his left leg or foot. In the same eighth-inning at-bat Holliday fouled a ball off his left shin and was hit by a pitch on his left arm. Bruised and bothered but not injured Holliday said he was fine.

Closer Edward Mujica greeted Holliday after the game with a catcher’s shin guard for him to wear to the plate tonight.

“We’ll see if I can run with one of those on” Holliday said.

The Cardinals will finish August unbeaten in Kelly’s six starts during the month. Since June 1 a span that includes nine starts from the righty he has a 1.77 ERA. That ranks third-lowest in the majors behind two pitchers vying for postseason awards: Cy Young Award favorite Clayton Kershaw (1.62) the Dodgers’ ace and Miami Rookie of the Year candidate Jose Fernandez (1.52). Over and over and over again in the first half of the season the Cardinals promoted rookies ahead of Kelly to the rotation leaving him to idle in the bullpen sometimes for weeks at a time for long relief assignments that would never come.

He’s won six consecutive decisions.

“Joe had a lot of things not go the way he wanted them to early on” Matheny said before Tuesday’s game. “Being in the bullpen. Being the long guy. Not being used very often. He stayed the course.”