Outscoring teams isn't enough for Cards

The St. Louis Cardinals look to complete a sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night (8 ET, ESPN) and stay in contention for a playoff spot in the competitive NL Central.

Even after losing Albert Pujols to the Los Angeles Angels in the offseason, the Cardinals have the best offense in the National League. The only team in the majors with more runs scored and a higher batting average than St. Louis is the Texas Rangers.

Highest Run Differential This Season

Entering play on Sunday, the Cardinals have the highest run differential in the majors, outscoring their opponents by 107 runs. The other teams in the top five are all leading their division.

However, St. Louis finds itself eight games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central and 2½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second wild-card spot. What causes the disconnect?

• 3-7 in extra-inning games, the most extra-inning losses among teams with winning records

• 12-18 in one-run games, tied for the most losses among teams with winning records

• Seven walk-off losses; only the Philadelphia Phillies (10) and Houston Astros (eight) have more

• High variation in scoring -- Cardinals lead NL with 12 games in double figures, but are just 8-36 when scoring three or fewer runs

In fact, the Cardinals' deficit to the Reds in the NL Central can be explained entirely by their record in games decided by two runs or fewer. The Cardinals are 16-29 in such games, the second worst record in the NL. The Reds are 33-22 and the Pirates are 34-22 in close games.

Matt Holliday has put himself into contention for the NL MVP award this season. He has been especially potent over the past seven weeks.

Since June 16, Holliday leads the majors with 41 RBIs and is second with a .408 batting average and 1.204 OPS. Only Andrew McCutchen is better in the last two categories.

Despite his power, Holliday isn’t afraid to be patient and hit the ball the other way. He has 39 opposite-field hits this season, the fifth highest total in the National League.

Like the Cardinals, the Brewers had to replace a slugging first baseman after making the playoffs in 2011. Unlike St. Louis, which has one more win through 107 games than last season, Milwaukee has struggled to a sub-.500 record.

Brewers' Bullpen Past 2 Seasons

But it hasn’t been the absence of Prince Fielder that has caused the fall in the standings. The Brewers are on pace to score more runs and hit more home runs this year than they did in 2011.

The biggest culprit for the Brewers has been the bullpen. Last year, Milwaukee’s bullpen posted a 3.32 ERA. So far this year, the bullpen has posted a 4.86 ERA, third worst in the majors. The staff has also blown 21 save opportunities, the most in baseball.