By scoring 8-1 and 5-1 wins over the Milwaukee Brewers in their last two games before the All-Star break, the St. Louis Cardinals gained some much-needed confidence, according to manager Mike Matheny.
“We won the series and (now) we can just build off that,” he said.
St. Louis will try to construct more success Friday night when the Miami Marlins visit to start a three-game series matching playoff contenders.
At 47-41, Miami enters the season's unofficial second half tied with the New York Mets for the National League's second wild-card spot, six games behind the first-place Washington Nationals in the NL East with two games in hand.
The Cardinals (46-42) are a game back of the Marlins and Mets and seven games back of the first-place Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. At stake for St. Louis in the season's homestretch: Extending their playoff streak to five straight years.
To do that, the Cardinals will have to make Busch Stadium a homefield advantage again. After going 55-26 at home last year, when they became baseball's first 100-win team since 2011, St. Louis went a miserable 19-26 before the break, including 4-5 on a nine-game homestand before winning two of three in Milwaukee.
This series opener kicks off a 10-game homestand for the Cardinals, which also entertain the San Diego Padres for four games and the Los Angeles Dodgers next weekend for three.
The good news for St. Louis is that help is on the way. Their bloated disabled list is about to shrink in membership as Kevin Siegrist (mono) could be available as soon as Saturday night.
What's more, Trevor Rosenthal (hamstring) and Matt Holliday (ankle) should be available Friday night, and it might not be much longer before 1B/OF Brandon Moss (ankle) returns from a stint on the 15-day disabled list.
“You can't allow yourself to go down that road of feeling sorry for yourself or saying too much about it,” Matheny said about the injuries. “You just have to keep playing. We have very good players who can jump in and make it happen.”
About the only aspect of the Cardinals that hasn't suffered from injuries is the starting rotation. That includes lefty Jaime Garcia (6-6, 4.01), who will make the start Friday night, perhaps based on his two dominant wins last year over the Marlins.
This Miami team might be a bit tougher than the one he owned last summer. The Marlins boast five .300 hitters, more than any team in baseball, none of them named Giancarlo Stanton.
However, Stanton bumped his average up 40 points in the last 3 ½ weeks before the break, then went out to San Diego and belted a record 61 homers in winning the Home Run Derby.
Miami will counter Garcia with a lefty of its own, Wei-Yin Chen (5-3, 4.83), who's coming off a 5-2 win July 5 at the Mets. Chen hasn't faced St. Louis in his career.
The Marlins haven't made the playoffs since 2003, when they won the World Series. Ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, who won't pitch in this series after working 1 1/3 innings in the All-Star Game, says the team is excited about being in contention.
“I believe in this team and how it's playing,” he said. “We're good enough to go really far this year. Hopefully, we can get a lot better in the second half.”