Down the Stretch They Come: St Louis Cardinals Set for Lift Off

Pat De Marco @@patdemarco01Correspondent IAugust 1, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 17:  Rick Ankiel #24 of the St. Louis Cardinals bats against the Chicago Cubs on April 17, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It wasn’t too long ago that five teams were separated by just four games in the NL Central.  How quickly things change.  

Heading into August the St Louis Cardinals lead the Chicago Cubs by just a half game, but the Cubs have two less losses.   

Losers of nine of 10 games, the Reds have fallen completely out of contention and are currently 10 games out.  The Brewers and Astros still have a pulse, but both have fallen 4.5 games behind the pace. 

With just two months of baseball left to be played, I thought this would be a good time to take a closer look at both the Cardinals and Cubs. 

The month of August looks to be a very favorable one for the Red Birds.  The Cardinals come into August with a record of 57-49.  They play 14 of their next 25 games at home.  

Newly acquired Matt Holliday and Julio Lugo have provided immediate relief to a struggling Cardinals offense.  In eight games, the Cardinals are 5-3 and Lugo and Holliday have combined for 29 hits, including 2 home runs and 11 RBI.

Mark DeRosa has also contributed hitting 7 HR in 18 games despite batting .215.  Keep in mind, the best hitter in the game Albert Pujols has not hit a home run in 13 games.  We all know that won't continue.   

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The Cardinals are blessed with the most underrated one through three starters in the game.  Carpenter, Wainwright, and Pineiro have combined for six complete games this year and all three have an ERA under 2.90.   The Cardinals should have a very fresh bullpen down the stretch.  

With 22 of their next 25 games against teams with losing records, it would shock me if a Tony La Russa team didn't take complete advantage of this schedule.  I see the Red Birds going 18-7 in the next 25. 

Now to Chicago Cubs.  The Cubs did strengthen their pen with the addition of John Grabow.  That said, unlike St Louis the Cubs enter the month of August with a much overused bullpen.

Chicago has zero complete games, and with Lou's obsession of using the same pitchers every night the Cubs' 'pen could hit a bump in the road. 

The upcoming schedule doesn't favor the Cubs.  The Cubs were a very impressive 19-8 in July but their August schedule sets up to be a very difficult one. 

The Cubs will play 19 of 29 games away from the friendly confines with just two days off.  

Out of those 29 games, 11 of them are against teams with winning records.  Included in those games are a four-game set in Colorado and four games in Los Angeles.  Keep in mind the Cubs are 21-28 on the road which is 13th worst in all of baseball.  

Despite their difficult August, the Cubs should get some good news.  Ted Lilly should be back in a few weeks and Geovany Soto should also be back sometime next week.  

It's hard to think that a team that has been so bad on the road will turn things around, but that's exactly what the Cubs will have to do if they’re going to have any shot of winning the National League Central.   The Cubs will need to go 17-12 in August, but 13-16 seems more realistic. 

The next few months should be a lot of fun, but it’s hard to not give the edge to the Cardinals.  The two team will meet in St Louis for a three-game set starting Sept. 18. 

The Cubs are just 1-5 in St Louis this year. 

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