The over-exaggeration of the importance of a given game, series or stretch of games is a common practice by some Major League Baseball observers.
In the case of the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals, almost a quarter of the regular schedule is still ahead. Those 36 remaining games can be split into two very distinct groupings. The upcoming 17 appear to present a much greater challenge and with it, a heightened importance compared to the final 19.
On the positive side, the Cards are just one game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates for first place in the National League Central Division. Further, the club is six games ahead in the NL wild card race, tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the two berths.
On the other hand, since game 64 back on June 11, the Cardinals have been a .500 team, going 31-31.
It is hardly a news flash that intra-division games, especially against other contenders, have added importance. But before the Cardinals can enter a crucial 13-game home and away stretch against both the Pirates and Reds that begins on August 26, the NL East first-place Atlanta Braves await in a four-game set at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals may still be smarting from their recent trip to Atlanta. From July 26-28, the Cards were swept out of town three straight, scoring a total of just three runs in the series. The losing streak grew to seven as St. Louis then dropped the first four of five in the Steel City. By the time that stretch was over, the Cards went from 2.5 games up to 2.5 games out of the division lead.
The remainder of the season is really two distinct segments. After the upcoming 17 battles against three teams that would be in the playoffs today, the final 19 games of the schedule get much softer.
By September 9, the Cardinals will be done with winning clubs. The Brewers, Mariners, Rockies, Nationals and Cubs – all with sub-.500 records – will be St. Louis’ opponents to close out the final three weeks of the regular season. 12 contests will be at home with just seven away from Busch.
Of course, the Cardinals’ challenge will be to get through the next 17 without incurring significant damage.