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Friendly schedule could aid St. Louis Cardinals playoff hunt

The first half of the 2017 season has been extremely disappointing for the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans.

But that doesn’t mean that things can’t be turned around.

Mired under the .500 mark and unable to get on a sustained run of good fortune, the Redbirds are still hanging in there in the hunt for the post season. They’re 5 and a half games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the race for the National League Central Division title. And they’re 7 and a half games behind in the wild card race.

It’s a big hill to climb. But, fortunately, St. Louis has the wind at its back with the easiest remaining schedule of the teams in the NL Central.

The Cardinals play 10 games in a row against under .500 clubs right out of the gate — although they’re all on the road — with three games at Pittsburgh, four in New York against the Mets and three at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. You can’t chalk up victories against poor teams when you’re also under .500, so the Birds can’t get ahead of themselves. But if they’re going to make a move, this is a place where they need to prove their worthiness.

You have to start someplace. And, for the Cardinals, that start has to be beginning to win series on a consistent basis. They must bring at least six wins home from that 10-game trip. And it would sure be nice if they could make it seven.

Speaking of something to prove, after the road trip is over, the Cardinals come home to face two of the best teams in the National League with three games against the Colorado Rockies and four against the deep and balanced Arizona Diamondbacks. Those clubs currently have a stranglehold on the two NL wildcard spots and those seven games represent one of St. Louis’ toughest challenges in the second half of the season. If the Birds win six out of 10 on the road they’d reach the .500 mark and winning four out of seven at home against Colorado and Arizona would give St. Louis a modest winning record.

Then it’s showdown time. The Cardinals will head to Milwaukee to kick off the month of August with a pivotal three-game set against the Brew Crew. If Mike Matheny and the boys can win two or three against the NL Central leaders, they’ll face a weak Reds club for three games before a home and away four-game set against the Kansas City Royals, a club that has struggled much of the season but, like the Redbirds, has been trying to claw its way back into the race lately.

If St. Louis can hold its own until this point, the schedule gets decidedly easier.

The Cardinals play three games at home against the sub-.500 Atlanta Braves before two against a pretty good Boston Red Sox team. After that, St. Louis plays four more games against the Pirates followed by three against the (currently 38-50 and in selling mode) San Diego Padres.

The Tampa Bay Rays, with a slightly over .500 record, come to town for a pair of games and then the Birds will face off with Milwaukee for another pair. But, from Aug. 31 through Sept. 28, the Cardinals don’t play a single team that currently has a winning record.

There are three games against the terrible San Francisco Giants and then four in San Diego against the Padres. Then the Cardinals host the Pirates and reds for seven games before going on the road to play the Cubs, Reds and Pirates. The Birds finish at home with four more games against the Cubs and what could be a key season-ending series against the Brewers.

Milwaukee starts its second half with six games against the lowly Philadelphia Phillies and has plenty of games left with the Reds and Pirates. But the Brewers still have to play the NL East top dog, the Washington Nationals and the NL West leaders, the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the Rockies and Diamondbacks.

If the Birds can take care of business against the weaker teams and win the head-to-head series with the Brewers, they can still control their own destiny in the playoff hunt.

None of the teams on the schedule are going to surrender just because the Cardinals throw their gloves and bats on the field. But the opportunity is there for St. Louis to have a strong record and make a push for the playoffs in the second half.