Chris Carpenter shown in a game earlier at Busch Stadium will start the series in Cincy. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

162 baseball games makes for a long season. “It’s a marathon,” is what you’ll hear from many players and coaches. However, the next three games between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds could certainly lay the foundation for what type of playoff push would could expect in the final month and a half of the season.

The Cardinals enter tonight’s series two games behind Cincinnati. Nothing will be settled mathematically after these three games. The worse case scenario for the Cardinals is they are five games out of first after this series. The worse case scenario for the Reds is that they are one game out. However, what this series could do to a team’s mental make-up is what I’m interested in watching for.

While I doubt either team will sweep, the thought of being five games out of first place and losing three games in a crucial series could have dramatic effects on the Cardinals’ clubhouse. The same could be said from a positive standpoint. If the Cardinals’ big three (Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright) go into Cincinnati and shut them down and come out of this series a game up in the standings, it could be the push the Cardinals need to lead them the rest of the season.

The Reds will have their hands full again with Chris Carpenter. He is 12-3 on the season, and 3-0 against the Reds having thrown 21 innings and allowed just three runs on 11 hits and three walks while striking out 15.

While pitching could dominate this series (Cardinals combined record of their three starters is 37-14, the Reds starters are a combined 30-14), both teams have the potential to put up big runs. They big matchup will feature the first basemen. Albert Pujols has 28 homers and leads the NL with 82 RBI. Joey Votto is tied with Pujols for second in the NL with 28 homers and is second in the NL with a .319 average.