1. Cardinals vs. Pirates
The St. Louis Cardinals have led the National League Central Division since April 17 and have boasted baseball’s best record for most of that time. But the NL playoff picture remains unsettled, even with just six days left in the regular season. The Cardinals’ lead over Pittsburgh sits at a precarious three games as of Sunday. The playoff drama begins Monday, because the schedulers have placed the Cardinals in Pittsburgh for a three-game series. The series will have a big influence on who wins the NL Central, and who has to face the Cubs in a wild card play-in game.
2. Belleville West at Belleville East
This one brings all the drama of intra-city rivarly anyway, but five weeks into the season both Belleville schools remain in the thick of the Southwestern Conference championship hunt. A win by West (3-2, 3-0 conference) potentially sets up a match of conference unbeatens when Edwardsville travels to Belleville next week for a showdown with the Maroons. A win by East (3-2, 2-1) combined with an Edwarsdville at East St. Louis Friday creates a four-way knot at the top of the conference. A loss by either would be that team’s third, meaning it would have to win out the remainder of its schedule to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. The Military Appreciation Day game kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at East. The teams have split their last four meetings.
3. Edwardsville at East St. Louis
This match of perennial contenders might have been a match of conference unbeatens if not for Belleville West’s big win over East Side (3-2, 2-1) Saturday. Now Edwardsville (5-0, 4-0) remains the league’s only undefeated team with three others, the Flyers included, on their heels with just one loss. The Tigers have won the last three meetings with the Flyers. Friday’s game kicks off at 7 p.m.
4. Rams in Arizona
Continued error-fraught performances by the St. Louis Rams could put their playoff hopes in jeopardy quickly this season. The Rams validated preseason hopes in opening week by defeating defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, but coughed up too many opportunities in losses at Washington at back at home Sunday against Pittsburgh. The Arizona Cardinals, meanwhile, are off to a 3-0 start and have no problems putting points on the board under new quarterback Carson Palmer. A loss Sunday would drop the Rams in a 1-3 hole headed into a Week 6 matchup with the Packers ... in Green Bay.
5. Soccer regional preview
Two Class 1A soccer teams with aspirations of reaching the state tournament will meet at 4:30 p.m. Thursday when Althoff and Gibault meet at the Belle-Clair soccer complex on Illinois 158. Althoff is playing the remainder of the season without its top scorer, Donovan Gagen, but senior Justin Robinson and sophomore Jimmy Monken have helped pick up the slack. The Hawks, meanwhile, are young but improving rapidly. Dalton Scace and Ben Mueth lead the attack.