ST. LOUIS -- With a 34-8 record since June 21, it may be time to consider the Dodgers' hot streak the norm.
The Dodgers concluded a 7-1 road trip with a 5-1 victory over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Thursday. They are now unbeaten in their last 14 series (10-0-4) and have a 5 1/2-game lead over the D-backs in the National League West.
"When you get into the second half, the pennant race, you're trying to win every game," manager Don Mattingly said. "You keep turning the page and whittling down and keep winning games. Keep putting pressure on everybody else."
"You have to give credit to what they're doing," said Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran. "Everything they're doing is working. They're pitching well. They're coming through offensively. They're making plays. Right now they're hot."
One day after the Cardinals lost Shelby Miller to a bruised elbow on just his second pitch, they saw another starter exit early with an injury. But this time the damage had already been done.
A.J. Ellis took rookie right-hander Carlos Martinez deep in the fifth, belting a 398-foot three-run homer into the Dodgers' bullpen just one pitch before Martinez left because of cramping in his right hand.
"It's just one of those things when you're just trying to put a nice swing on something and drive in a run in that situation," Ellis said. "Sometimes you're rewarded with a little bit more than you're looking for."
Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu continued his impressive rookie campaign, cruising through seven innings while fanning seven. He limited the Cardinals to one unearned run on five hits and did not walk a batter for the fourth time in his young career.
Ryu has won his last four outings and tossed more than six frames for the 18th time in his 22 starts.
"Most of my pitches were on point today," Ryu said through a translator. "The only concern I had was with my fastball; the velocity wasn't as high as I was hoping it would be. Thanks to my other pitches, I was able to get out of the innings."
The lone blip on Ryu's night came in the fourth, when he allowed back-to-back singles to Matt Holliday and David Freese. On Freese's hit, Andre Ethier was off the mark on the toss to second, and the ball ricocheted off the bag and into shallow left, allowing Holliday to score the unearned run.
Ryu had allowed a runner to reach scoring position just one other time, with a pair of consecutive singles in the third, but made up for it by tipping a Rob Johnson grounder with his glove, allowing the Dodgers to quickly turn two.
The Dodgers were aggressive early, beating out three infield hits in the span of their first 10 batters. They got on the board first when Adrian Gonzalez's sacrifice plated Carl Crawford; Ellis' blast sealed the win.
In his first big league start, Martinez allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks. Even without the cramping, though, he was unlikely to remain in the game much longer, with his pitch count escalating to 98 through 4 2/3 innings.
"I don't know if we've seen a fastball like that this year," Ellis said of Martinez. "We really battled and tonight fouled a lot of balls off that were borderline pitches. Kind of drove his pitch count up, tried to make him more one-dimensional."
Crawford followed Wednesday night's season-high-tying four hits with a 2-for-5 performance, recording his 25th multihit game. He went 9-for-19 in the four-game series. Yasiel Puig extended his hit streak to seven games with his 10th three-hit game of the year. In the ninth inning, Puig became the 15th NL player with 10 three-hit games, hammering a long triple deep into left field, just beyond Holliday's reach.
"I think the patience [Puig is] showing at the plate and being able to deal with different guys, that growth for us is big," Mattingly said. "We're seeing a lot calmer guy at home plate, which means he's going to keep hitting good pitching."
Jerry Hairston tagged on an insurance run in the eighth with a single and now has six RBIs over six games on this road trip as the Dodgers continue to receive production from all over the lineup.
"It's starting to kind of jell for us, but we know we haven't accomplished anything," Hairston said. "We know the key is to play your best baseball toward the end of September and on toward the playoffs."
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.