Opposite dugout: Surging Cardinals have sights set on postseason spot

Manager: Mike Shildt (1st season)

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Record: 63-55

Last 10 games: 8-2

Who to watch: 3B Matt Carpenter (.277 \ with 32 HR, 65 RBIs); C Yadier Molina (.290 \ with 53 RBIs, 95 hits); 1B José Martínez (.299 with 114 hits); LF Marcell Ozuna (.272 with 122 hits, 62 RBIs); RHP Miles Mikolas (12-3, 2.74 ERA); RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA); RHP Bud Norris (2.85 ERA, 22 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (3-3 in 2017)

Pitching probables:

Aug. 13: LHP Tommy Milone (1-1) vs. RHP Miles Mikolas (12-3); 8:00 p.m., MASN
Aug. 14: LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-8) vs. RHP John Gant (4-4); 8:15 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 15: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (5-2) vs. LHP Austin Gomber (2-0); 8:15 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 16: RHP Tanner Roark (7-12) vs. RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6); 7:15 p.m., MASN

Inside the Cardinals:

Fans of this team had high expectations heading into 2018. Yet a fast start was followed by an underwhelming summer, sending this team tumbling down the standings. A recent hot streak has this team slowly climbing back into the postseason picture, but it will be interesting to see whether the success has come too little too late. This sounds exactly like the Nationals’ 2018 campaign. Coincidentally enough, this exact same timeline can be applied to the Nationals’ latest opponent - the Cardinals. The Cardinals jumped out to a 30-24 start, even grabbing the top spot in the National League Central in mid-May. But June and July saw St. Louis crumble, culminating with the firing of then-manager Mike Matheny. Mike Shildt is at the helm now, and despite all of the turmoil, the Cardinals enter this week’s series against the Nationals 5 1/2 games behind the Cubs in their division.

Offensively, the Cardinals are middle of the road in a number of categories. Entering Sunday’s action, the team ranked 15th in runs scored (527), 14th in average (.250), 13th in home runs (147) and 12th in on-base percentage (.321). In the power department, the Cards are led by third baseman Matt Carpenter. The 32-year-old leads the NLN with 32 home runs, a total that’s more than double his nearest teammate. Carpenter is tied for second on the team with 113 hits. Left fielder Marcell Ozuna boasts a team-leading 122 hits to go along with a .272 average. And then there’s first baseman José Martínez, who is tops on the team with a .299 average and has collected 69 RBIs on the year. Don’t forget about catcher Yadier Molina. The ageless wonder is still raking at 35, hitting .290 with 15 home runs and 94 hits.

You might scratch your head at the mention of tonight’s starter for St. Louis, Miles Mikolas. After all, the right-hander spent the previous three years pitching for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. But after signing a deal with the Cardinals and joining their rotation this season, Mikolas has not only made a name for himself, he’s moved toward the top of the NL Cy Young Award leaderboard. Mikolas is 12-3 with a 2.74 ERA and 16 quality starts. To date, he’s issued just 25 walks while tallying 98 strikeouts. Righty John Gant starts Tuesday opposite Washington’s Gio Gonzalez. Gant has floated between the starting rotation and the bullpen, posting respectable numbers in both spots. He’s coming off of his best start of the season, allowing one earned run and one walk over six innings of work. Rookie southpaw Austin Gomber began his career in the Cardinals bullpen, but recently moved to the starting rotation. He’s 2-0 on the year, and will make his first career home start against the Nationals. It’ll be fellow rookie Jack Flaherty in Thursday’s series finale. Flaherty has had mixed results this season, but the right-hander still boasts a 3.22 ERA. He hasn’t given up more than four earned runs in any single start, and has tallied 40 strikeouts in his last five outings.

Handling the closing duties for the Cardinals is veteran Bud Norris, who had zero career saves prior to the start of the 2017 season and has amassed 41 since, including 22 this year. Along with Norris, the St. Louis bullpen features relievers Jordan Hicks and Mike Mayers.

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