A week ago it appeared that the Cardinals might be on the verge of tumbling out of the National League Central Division race.
Now, thanks to their five-game winning streak coupled with the Milwaukee Brewers' eight-game slide, the Redbirds have a chance to get a stranglehold on the division lead. They've gone from two games out of first place to three games out front. Milwaukee is suddenly fighting for its playoff life.
The Birds play four games in Milwaukee and then three against the Brewers in St. Louis. If the Cardinals win four of those seven games and then play .500 ball the rest of the way, the Brewers are going to have to win two-thirds of their games, at least, to catch up. Since a 19-8 April, the Brew Crew is 53-57.
The Cardinals seem to be on the rise because of a sudden outburst of offense sparked by the return of catcher Yadier Molina, a power surge from left fielder Matt Holliday and the breakout of the dormant bench. Both utility infielder Daniel Descalso and reserve outfielder Peter Bourjos have made strong contributions over the last month. And young slugger Randal Grichuk has helped out with a .400 batting average since his return from the minor leagues.
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The Redbirds are hoping for another boost tonight when Michael Wacha, who hasn't started since June thanks to a shoulder injury, will return for what is expected to be an abbreviated start. He's on a pitch count of 50-60, which likely means he'll depart before he'll get the five innings necessary to be eligible for a win. But the Cardinals need to stretch him out at the big league level as the minor league regular season is over, ending the chance for a rehab assignment.