Coming off two solid series wins against the Giants and Brewers, the Cardinals look to stay hot in a match up with the struggling Reds. Though the Reds seem to be a vulnerable opponent, the Cardinals need to come in with extra focus to avoid a Cincinnati ambush, especially after two taxing, successful series.  

The NL Central is (obviously) tough. The Cubs refuse to slow from their historic start, attempting to leave the rest of the field in the dust. As such, for division rivals like the Cardinals, each loss hits a little harder, as it usually amounts in a lead increase for Chicago. Put simply, the Cubs have showed no signs of slowing down extensively, leaving no room for error for other members of the division.

In the NL Central chase, it becomes especially imperative to take advantage of weak opponents, taking every possible opportunity to close in on Chicago. As it stands in 2016, the Reds are a perfect example of a team that should, on paper, offer an opportunity for the Cardinals to inch closer to the Cubs.

Specifically, the Reds are 1/3 of the way a disastrous 2016 season, having posted a 21-36 record, worst in the Central. Moreover, the Reds have one of the worst pitching staffs in the entire league, with a 5.63 team-ERA, and a 1.56 WHIP (30th in MLB). Previously in the season, the Cardinals beat the Reds 2 out of 3, winning one game by an impressive score of 14-3.

With the core of the Cardinals lineup getting  hot in unison, and a solid road record so far this season, it becomes reasonable to predict a successful series (sweep) vs. the Reds. Though on paper such a series should be a breeze, a couple factors will make three wins a little more complicated.

First, it is worth noting that the Reds, despite their poor record, have begun to turn it around lately. This past week, the Reds won 4 games in a row. Furthermore, Joey Votto has started to look like himself, hitting .306 with 4 home runs over the past week and a half. Moving forward into the week, Votto will try to carry the Reds by attempting to take advantage of inconsistent Cardinals pitching.

Second, the Cardinals are coming off two tough 3-game sets against top caliber competition. After beating both the Giants and the Brewers, it will be difficult to match the intensity for a road-series against the last place Cincinnati Reds. Especially considering the Reds current form, the Cardinals must actively make an effort to play with special fire, taking easy wins that are available, therefore putting pressure on the Cubs to keep up the pace. A classic “trap” series, the Redbirds will need to use their veteran experience to motivate each other in their attempt to embark on a summer hot streak.

In a division where some would argue that the Cubs are out of reach (false), the Cardinals must learn to ride momentum of big wins, gaining confidence and consistency moving forward. In other words, the Cardinals must take control of their own destiny, forcing both the Cubs and the Pirates to consider them as true threats to compete for the NL Central crown. Though two tough series and a deceiving Reds squad will try to squander the staying power of solid baseball, the Cardinals must overcome, using high energy and focus to stay hot.

So far in 2016, the Cardinals biggest win-streak is 4 games, after and early-season sweep of the Atlanta Braves. After struggling with consistency for the first third of the season, it is about time the Cardinals change their ways, turning into a consistent threat to string together multiple wins. This week, the Reds provide an opportunity for such positive change. Can the Cardinals win 5 in a row?

Photo captured by Jeff Curry- USA Today Sports