No off days: Crucial stretch could determine Cards' wild card sh -

No off days: Crucial stretch could determine Cards' wild card shot

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By John Bailey By John Bailey

(BaseballStL) — Can a major league baseball team really have a crucial stretch of games in June?

The answer is yes and the St. Louis Cardinals are right in the middle of one of the biggest of the year.

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Because of the NFL-like parity in the National League so far this year, crossover games like the ones the Cards are finishing with East division foes are of paramount importance.

It may be too early to talk about the play-offs but it is not too early to position yourself should the season come down to head-to-head competition between wild card contenders.

By virtue of their impressive sweep of what had been a red hot Washington Nationals team, the Cards now own the tiebreakers against both the Nationals (5-2) and the Atlanta Braves (4-2).

St. Louis lost three of four against the Mets in New York, and thus need a sweep to completely own all three teams. Monday’s win was a good start, but the Mets are fading badly (the Cards lead them by seven games) and thus, it may not matter. The Cards still have all six with the Marlins who have hung around longer than anyone expected.

But these games are not the only pivotal ones the Cards face this month. When this home stand ends, St. Louis embarks on a crucial West coast trip with three at Colorado and three at Los Angeles, both of whom appear to be contenders for the wild card since if you combined the two squads into one team, it still could not catch the San Francisco Giants.

Of course, it is too early to assume the Cardinals will have to settle for a wild card berth. They trail Milwaukee by just 3.5 games and the dominant pitching of late would seem to keep them in serious contention no matter what the offense does.

To date, the Cards are 3-3 against the Brewers and will face them 13 more times, mostly in the last two months of the season, including a monster four-game series in Milwaukee the first week of September, after which the Brewers host the Marlins for four more.

But the Brewers face a nasty schedule that includes four with Toronto, six with San Francisco, seven with Colorado, six with the Los Angeles Dodgers and six with Washington. In addition, they still have 12 more with the Cincinnati Reds; a team that has beaten them five of seven games so far this year.

The Brewers may look back with considerable regret on the first half of 2014, a time when the St. Louis Cardinals were struggling but they were unable to put themselves a safe distance away entering their most difficult stretches of games.

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