As the St. Louis Cardinals head home to Busch Stadium for a three game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the hometown team can’t feel too down on themselves after losing two out of three to the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend. Despite the missed opportunity against the sub-.500 Phillies, the Cards did not lose any ground in the Wild Card race as the Pittsburgh Pirates inexplicably lost two of three at home to the hapless San Diego Padres. Coming into Tuesday’s donnybrook with the D-backs, the Cardinals sit a mere 2 games back of the Pirates and are .5 games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers who sit at 63-53. Interestingly enough, the Dodgers are in the midst of a four gamer against the Pirates in Pittsburgh in a series with major playoff implications, and you can be sure the Cardinals will be watching those scores intently.

The Arizona Diamondbacks come into St. Louis reeling, having lost 6 of their last 10 games and falling 6.5 back of the second NL Wild Card and 5 back of the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants. Just a few weeks ago, the Diamondbacks went into Los Angeles and swept the Dodgers and appeared to be making a push for the playoffs after a lackluster first few months of the season. There were very high expectations this year for the D-backs, coming off a stellar season and NL West division crown in the last year’s campaign. When you look at the composition of their roster, it’s hard to pinpoint the underlying cause for their season-long mediocrity. They have gotten tremendous contributions from the likes of OF Jason Kubel (25 HR & 77 RBI), C Miguel Montero (.851 OPS) and 2B Aaron Hill (14 HR & .831 OPS), but there have also been two glaring disappointments to be found in the Diamondbacks’ outfield corps. RF Justin Upton (.273/9/46) was touted as a potential 2012 MVP candidate after last year’s 31 HR output got many pundits excited to see the upward trajectory of this young 24 year old’s career. There has not been that improvement this year, as Upton (.273/9/46) has not been the potent threat in the lineup many thought he could be. There was even talk that Upton was on the trade block at the deadline, but ultimately a trade of Upton, who has been deemed a 5-tool player by many, made no sense for the Diamondbacks for the present and the future. The other major disappointment has been OF Chris Young who is hitting an anemic .212 with just 11 HR and 29 RBI. While he has been saddled with injuries for part of the season, he is healthy now and has 0 HRs in his last 10 games, hitting just .133 (4-30) over that stretch. One big surprise for the Diamondbacks organization has been the emergence of slugger 1B Paul Goldschmidt, who, in his first full season in the big leagues, has put up a .299 average with 16 homeruns, 61 RBI, with an OPS of .890. The starting pitching, a strong suit for the team last season, has been just ok, with starters Ian Kennedy (10-9, 4.34 ERA) and Joe Saunders (6-8, 3.52 ERA) adequately anchoring the staff. Kennedy was a whopping 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA last season so his decreased performance is one of the main reasons the D-backs are hovering just above the .500 mark. If the Diamondbacks are to make one last push for the postseason, they are going to need the aforementioned four players to step up their games to an elite level that they have all proven they can reach at times. The Diamondbacks have the pieces in place to make a push, but with so big a deficit in the division and the Wild Card, they will need to start winning series against the quality opponents, such as the Cardinals, that stand in their way.

Coming off a painful loss 8-7 in 11 innings at the hands of the Phillies, in which Mitchell Boggs allowed a game-tying 3-run HR in the 8th inning, the St. Louis Cardinals will look to regroup at home where they have been highly successful all season, posting a 34-23 record at the friendly confines of Busch Stadium. After the upcoming series with the D-backs, the Cardinals will really hit the meat of their schedule, playing 12 of their next 15 games against the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. As I’ve said before, the Cardinals must take care of business against inferior opponents to stay within striking distance for their games against said contenders. That is not to say that the Diamondbacks are a pushover by any means. In fact, the Diamondbacks season probably has a 2-week window and unless they make a push now, they will be long gone from the playoff picture. In that light, the Cardinals will need to keep the intensity in these next three games in order to subdue the desperate Diamondbacks.

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