The St. Louis Cardinals suffered a terrible end to the first half of the 2015 season.
But they apparently used the rough patch as motivation to start strong in the second half.
They split four games in Chicago against the Cubs before fumbling away three of four to the Pittsburgh Pirates to lurch into the all-star break with a 3-5 record against their closest competitors.
Pittsburgh pulled within 2 1/2 games of the Cardinals in the National League Central standings after being back as far as nine games a couple weeks earlier. The race was on, pundits declared.
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But while the Redbirds were taking two of three against the New York Mets at home and sweeping the Chicago White Sox in a two-game road series, the Pirates have lost four of five to start the second half. Suddenly the St. Louis lead has been restored to six games and Cardinals fans can breathe a little easier.
The Redbirds showed their resilience and versatility in Chicago. They pasted the White Sox with an eight-run barrage in the first game that included a Matt Holliday grand slam. In the finale, the Cardinals scored all three of their runs with a two-out, eighth-inning triple from catcher Yadier Molina to scratch out a 3-2 win.
While they have to take care of business and win the games they should, the schedule favors the Cardinals in the early going of the second half. After a make-up game against the Kansas City Royals Thursday, St. Louis faces a string of sub-.500 teams: The Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies at home. Then road series against the Reds and Milwaukee Brewers.
After being swept by the last place Brewers and losing two of three to the Royals, the Pirates have to play four against the Washington Nationals and two on the road against the Minnesota Twins before playing the Reds and the Cubs.
It’s time to built a cushion in the standings before three games agains the Pirates and six against the San Francisco Giants in late August.