McNeal: Cardinals need to capitalize against lowly Padres

With tougher opponents on the horizon, Cards look to capitalize against cellar-dwelling Padres

ST. LOUIS -- Going into the break, the Cardinals had rolled through a soft stretch of their schedule by winning seven of nine against the Marlins, Astros and Cubs.

The NL Central front-runners have what should be another cushy series this weekend that they need to take advantage of. After they face the NL West cellar-dwelling Padres, the Cardinals' schedule takes a turn for the tougher.

The Phillies, who have won nine of 13 this month, follow San Diego into Busch Stadium. Though the Cardinals won't face Cliff Lee, they will see Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendricks. 

Then the Cardinals head off on what could be called a playoff-preview tour with stops at Atlanta, Pittsburgh (for five games in four days) and Cincinnati.

After that trip, the Cardinals will be spending a lot of time at home playing division rivals. Of their final 52 games, 30 will be played at Busch Stadium. Of their final 69 games, 42 come against the division, including 14 against the second-place Pirates.

The Cardinals are done traveling to the West Coast and their longest flight remaining is to Denver for a four-game series against the Rockies in September.

For manager Mike Matheny, what's ahead is not important. The second-year skipper is all about keeping the focus on today.

"I'm always going to keep trying to encourage these guys not to think any further past right now," he says. "The consistent message that's going to be given from our coaching staff is let's do what we can do ourselves. Let's take care of our business."

So far, his team has been listening.

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