It wasn't a good road trip for the St. Louis Cardinals, but it also wasn't a disaster.
The Cardinals on Sunday took the finale of a seven-game trek to San Diego and Los Angeles with a 5-2 victory in 12 innings over the Dodgers, who fell a game behind St. Louis for the second wild-card spot in the National League.
St. Louis (77-70), which was 2-5 on the West-Coast swing, has remained in control of its destiny because the teams in pursuit of it, namely the Dodgers, can't win, either.
The Cardinals return to Busch Stadium for a brief three-game homestand against the 99-loss Houston Astros at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday. Kyle Lohse (14-3, 2.81 ERA) will pitch for the Cardinals against left-hander Fernando Abad (0-4, 5.08 ERA), who is 1-9 in 85 career games.
The series continues with games at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday (Lance Lynn vs. Lucas Harrrell) and 12:45 p.m. Thursday (Jaime Garcia vs. Cardinals nemesis Bud Norris).
Is this an opportunity for the Cardinals to put some distance between themselves, the Dodgers and other wild-card contenders like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Philadelpia and Arizona? Yes.
But while the Astros appear to be pushovers, they are coming off three wins in four games against Philadelphia that disrupted the Phillies' momentum.
Also, Norris (5-12, 4.93 ERA this season) has been a nemesis for the Cardinals. He is 7-4 with a 2.61 ERA in his career against St. Louis, although he is 19-32 otherwise and has a winning record against only three other teams.
The inconsistent Cardinals are in no position to overlook anyone. They've got problems of their own, which include a 6-13 record since they climbed a season-best 14 games above .500 on Aug. 27.
The Cardinals are fortunate the other wild-card contenders have slumped at the same time they have.
The Dodgers, before their split against the Cardinals, had dropped six of seven.
Pittsburgh has been in freefall mode for the past month and has dropped eight of its last nine. The Pirates were three behind St. Louis entering their game Monday night in Chicago.
Los Angeles' and Pittsburgh's doldrums, combined with the Cardinals' struggles, have created openings for Milwaukee and the Phillies.
The Brewers, who have inched within 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals, have won nine of 12. The Phillies, who are four behind St. Louis, had won seven in a row and eight of nine until stumbling against the Astros.
Arizona suddenly is just 4 1/2 games behind the Cardinals, although it lost two of three to San Francisco over the weekend.
The Cardinals have six games remaining with the last-place Astros and three against the Cubs this weekend, starting Friday when Chris Carpenter makes his 2012 debut on the mound.
But St. Louis closes the season with a difficult six-game homestand against Washington, which is about to clinch the NL East, and Cincinnati, which is running away with the NL Central.
The Dodgers' remaining schedule is much more difficult. They still have three games remaining at Washington, three at Cincinnati and three at San Diego before closing out the season at home with three against Colorado and three against San Francisco.
The remaining schedules for the other wild-card contenders:
Milwaukee --three at Pittsburgh, four at Washington, three at Cincinnati, three at home vs. Houston and three at home vs. San Diego.
Pittsburgh --three vs. Milwaukee at home, three at Houston, four at New York, three at home vs. Cincinnati and three at home vs. Atlanta.
Philadelphia --three at New York (series began Monday), three at home vs. Atlanta, three at home vs. Washington, three at Miami and three at Washington.
Arizona --three at home vs. San Diego, four at Colorado, three at San Francisco, three at home vs. Chicago and three at home vs. Colorado.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.