Cardinals kick off crucial road stretch

Cardinals kick off crucial road stretch

Cardinals kick off crucial road stretch
CINCINNATI -- One year ago on Friday, the Cardinals sat 10 games back in the National League Central and 10 1/2 games back in the NL Wild Card race.

Things turned out all right for St. Louis, which ended up winning the World Series.

Entering Friday night's bout with the Reds, the Cardinals sat seven games behind first-place Cincinnati in the division and hold a tight one-game lead for the second NL Wild Card spot over the Pirates.

St. Louis has entered the most pivotal stretch of the season, as it will face the Reds, Pirates and the NL-leading Nationals, all on the road.

"I say it's another series, but ... if you're not excited about this whole road trip, let alone tonight and the three games here in Cincinnati, then you probably need to check and see if you have a heartbeat," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.

The Cardinals have the potential to close the gap in the Central to four games by weekend's end, and potentially leap into the top spot in the Wild Card, depending on what the Braves do.

With only 36 games remaining on the docket, there's no denying it's crunch time in St. Louis.

"This is why you play the game. You play to win," Matheny said. "It's time to grind and figure out a way to do whatever you've got to do each day. We've been pretty consistent, we're not making too much out of one series or anything else, but absolutely, [Friday] is an exciting game."