Despite improved play after acquiring Julio Lugo and Matt Holliday, the St. Louis Cardinals have not really gained much ground on the National League Central division. After Chicago's 4-2 win over the Reds on Monday, the Birds are actually behind the Cubbies because of playing more games despite the winning record in the season series.
The future is bright for St. Louis. With an MLB high nine off days over the course of the rest of the year, and a schedule in August that includes seven (of eight) series against losing teams and five off days, the Birds are poised to go on a run. Here are three reasons that the Cardinals shouldn't sweat too much about their battle over first place based on the past couple weeks.
3. Pujols' Struggles: Honestly, how long is this going to last? Albert hasn't hit much of anything since the All-Star break, but the Birds have still held off all contenders. With him playing well again and Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick demanding respect behind him, the Cardinals will have a better offense than they've had in years.
2. No Fifth Starter: Todd Wellemeyer might not make another start in Cardinal red ever again, and that's because of all the off days on the schedule. They won't need a fifth starter until August 11th next, and only one more time in the month. Mitchell Boggs has been serviceable with the club, and Carpenter, Wainwright, Piñeiro, and Lohse might be the best top four in the National League. This will help ensure that the Cardinals avoid any form of a skid, especially if the offense continues its ways.
1. Poor Opponents: 21 of 24 games that the Cardinals have this month are against losing opponents (the 'Stros are at .500). Thirteen of those games are against the Padres, Pirates and Nats, who have essentially mailed in their seasons. The Cardinals, with their streaky hitting and dominant pitching, can certainly take advantage of this match up. Tony La Russa's teams always play well late in the season, and this unit should be no different. With plenty of rest, new talent on the team, and a kind schedule for the rest of August and leading into September, St. Louis definitely will have a chance to waltz into fall with the NL Central lead.