The Cardinals head into Cincinnati on Monday looking to make up two games in the standings on their rivals, the Reds.
For most of the season, the two teams have been locked in a to-the-death battle for first place in the National League Central. The result of this three-game series will likely have a major impact on the pennant race going forward.
With three of the National League's best starters taking the mound for St. Louis, they have the early edge in this series.
The Cardinals will send Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Adam Wainwright to the hill to face a solid but inexperienced Reds pitching staff. This season, the Cardinals' first three starters have accounted for 32 of their 61 wins, second most in baseball, and by far the most among NL teams.
Monday, August 9, 7:10 PM ET, Great American Ball Park
Monday's game will be a treat for Cardinals fans living outside of the Central Time Zone, as it will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
The pitching matchup will pit longtime ace Chris Carpenter against rookie Mike Leake. Carpenter will serve as a trendsetter for the whole series. If he pitches well the Cardinals will have the early momentum.
He's coming off a strong start against Houston, whom he held to two runs in 7.1 innings.
He also spun a gem against the Reds in his last meeting with Cincinnati, giving up just one run and four hits in eight innings. He's won eight consecutive starts against the Reds, posting a 1.09 ERA, and beaten them three times this season.
He's also been red-hot of late, posting a 1.64 ERA in his last five starts, all St. Louis wins.
If Carpenter can continue his dominance against the division leaders, the Cardinals could inch closer by the end of the night.
Mike Leake, who broke camp with the Reds without ever pitching in the minors, looks to rebound from his last start, where he was plagued by the big inning. In the second, Leake hit Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen in the back of the neck, and was visibly shaken. He threw 33 pitches that inning alone, facing 10 batters and allowing six hits.
Tuesday, August 10, 7:10 PM ET, Great American Ball Park
On Tuesday night, the Cardinals will place their fate in the hands of rookie Jaime Garcia, who was been less than his usually brilliant self in his last two starts. Manager Tony LaRussa opted to give Garcia an extra two days rest, in hopes that he can return to form.
In his last start, he gave up four runs in just five innings pitched. The Cardinals are slowly allowing Garcia to go deeper into games, but with the way he's pitching, he hasn't lasted much more than five.
Taking the hill for the Reds is blazing hot Johnny Cueto. Cueto has been the Reds' best starter this season, posting 11 wins and a 3.24 ERA. He's looking to establish a new career high in wins. Over his last nine starts, Cueto has blown away hitters to the tune of 5-1 with a 1.55 ERA. Seemingly the only team he hasn't dominated is St. Louis.
This season, Cueto is 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts against the Redbirds.
Wednesday, August 11, 12:35 PM ET, Great American Ball Park
This looks to be the best matchup of the series. Cy Young favorite Adam Wainwright takes the hill, bringing along his 2.09 ERA and 16 wins, both second in the league. He joined Bob Gibson in his magical 1968 season as the only Cardinals starters to have as many as 16 wins with an ERA as low as 2.09 through 24 starts.
In his last start, Wainwright turned in the most dominant performance of his career, holding the Marlins to just two hits in a complete game shutout.
He currently leads the Cardinals in most major pitching statistics, and places in the top five in the Triple Crown categories of wins, ERA, and strikeouts.
For Cincinnati, veteran Bronson Arroyo takes the hill, coming off one of the best stretches in a long career. For only the second time in his big-league career, Arroyo has gone two consecutive starts without allowing an earned run. He showed good command of his pitches, especially his curveball, in seven shutout innings against the Cubs on Friday.
This should be a heated series, between two division rivals, in the closest race in the National League.
In my opinion, St. Louis will take the opener and closer of this series. Cueto has been rock solid for the Reds this year, and for a Cardinals offense that has been shaky at times this season, he may be too much to solve. I could see the Cardinals winning all three, although I think it's unlikely.
In any case, this will be a good series pitting two strong teams and two of the National League's best pitching rotations against each other.