Jul 9, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Thomas Pham (28) reacts while running the bases after hitting a solo home run in the ninth inning during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. The Cardinals beat the Brewers 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Only seven games back of the Cubs, who soon face the challenging Texas Rangers and New York Mets, the Cardinals have a huge opportunity to bridge their seven game NL Central deficit.

In their first two series back, the Cardinals face the Miami Marlins (47-41) and the San Diego Padres (38-51) while the Cubs face the Texas Rangers (54-36) and the New York Mets (47-41). So in their first series back, the Cubs face one of the top teams in the MLB. After going an abysmal 2-8 before the All-Star break, the Rangers are not the team the Cubs would like to see to kick off the second half of the season.

Now the Cardinals first series back won’t be easy either, but actually for a rather odd reason: it’s at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinal’s have gone a horrible 0-7 at home in inter-league play so far this season. There are two ways to look at this. Option one would be to say that the Cardinals have simply been “unlucky” and that they will regress back to a mean, therefore winning some inter-league games at home. Option two would be that the Cardinals just, for some reason, cannot perform at home and/or haven’t done enough scouting of American League pitchers. I personally think it’s primarily Option one, and that there is not an actual concrete reason for it.

Being seven games back in the NL Central, a series win against the Marlins would mean a whole lot for the Cardinals. If they get the momentum going in their first series before taking on a struggling San Diego Padres team, they could rack up very meaningful wins in the first week back. On the flip side, the Cubs have the potential to come off the break with a string of losses against the Rangers and Mets.

If the Cubs lose both their series (let’s say going 2-4 overall), and the Cardinals take 2 against Miami and sweep the Padres, the NL Central lead would close to 4 games. Being able to kick off the first week of the second half and bring the division into reach could truly motivate the Cardinals for the rest of the season. Knowing you’re right there in contention, and that every win matters, is a HUGE confidence and motivation booster. This race could become very interesting, very fast, and it largely depends on how both teams start off from the break. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, but the momentum the first two series could provide will prove to be very important.

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports