ST. LOUIS — To make the National League playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, the St. Louis Cardinals will have to conquer their home-field disadvantage.
Heading into a regular-season-ending, seven-game homestand that begins Monday night with the first of four games against the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis owns a 33-41 record at Busch Stadium.
It is the first time since the stadium opened in its third iteration in 2006 that the Cardinals (81-74) will finish with a losing mark at home. They will post their first losing home record since 1999.
The Cardinals start the week a half-game behind San Francisco (82-74) for the NL's second wild-card and 1 1/2 games in back of the New York Mets for the first wild card. On Monday, New York (83-73) opens a three-game series at grieving Miami, playing its first game since the boating death of ace pitcher Jose Fernandez early Sunday morning, while San Francisco gets a day off.
Home, not sweet home is where the Cardinals will have to get the job done, and the task doesn't seem impossible by any means. Cincinnati (65-90) is headed for a last-place finish in the NL Central and has won just one of its past 11 series in St. Louis dating back to April 2013.
The Cardinals are 4-2 against the Reds at home this year, including a 3-2 win on Aug. 10 that saw Jaime Garcia work into the ninth inning to earn the decision. Perhaps because of that outing, or because of Luke Weaver's struggles during a just-completed road trip, Garcia (10-12, 4.59 ERA) gets the ball Monday for his first start since Sept. 13.
While Garcia has pitched to a puffy 8.23 ERA over his past six starts, he is coming off four scoreless innings of relief Wednesday in Colorado. He struck out five without issuing a walk.
He will be opposed by Reds rookie Tim Adleman (2-4, 4.06 ERA). The right-hander lost two starts to St. Louis this year, although he pitched decently in a 5-2 defeat on Sept. 4 in Cincinnati. Adleman recorded a quality start in a no-decision Sept. 19 at the Chicago Cubs, allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings and fanning five.
Cincinnati is 2-4 on its 10-game road trip, winning 4-2 in Milwaukee on Sunday behind five scoreless innings from Brandon Finnegan. The Reds are getting outstanding play from shortstop Jose Peraza, who is batting .378 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 127 at-bats since being recalled from Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 20.
“It's just a really nice template to look at to say this guy is going to be really good as he matures,” Reds manager Bryan Price said.
Power has kept St. Louis in contention, but the offense has slowed in September. On a 5-5 road trip that ended with a 3-1 loss to the Cubs on Sunday night at Wrigley Field, the Cardinals scored 37 runs. Twenty of those runs came in a pair of wins.
“We're going to have to mix and match and make something happen,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
Still, right-hander Carlos Martinez, who likely would get the start in the wild-card game if the Cardinals qualify, remains optimistic about the team's chances in October.
“I think we're in a good position right now,” he said. “I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series.”