The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers have come storming out of the All-Star break to significantly tighten the race atop the NL Central, and they'll begin a critical four-game series at Busch Stadium on Monday.
The Cardinals (57-43) went into the break 4½ games out of first place in the Central, while the Brewers (55-43) were five games out, but neither team has lost since the second half began.
St. Louis, which owns the NL's wild-card spot, is coming off a four-game sweep over San Diego to move two games behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs while Milwaukee swept a three-game set at San Francisco to pull within three.
Although this series should have a lot of influence in shaping the division race, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is not letting his team get caught up in the hype.
"You need to accumulate wins," he told the team's official Web site. "Every time you play a series, you need to accumulate wins. Milwaukee's a very important series, but it's no more important than this one, and it's no more important than the Mets."
The Cardinals have not had much success against the Brewers lately, dropping five of their last seven meetings after winning the first two games of the season.
On Sunday, St. Louis' Aaron Miles hit a game-ending grand slam to give the Cardinals a 9-5 victory -- their fourth straight comeback win.
Troy Glaus hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning, and is batting .528 (19-for-36) with five home runs and 10 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak after going hitless in 19 at-bats in his previous five games.
The Brewers defeated the Giants 7-4 Sunday, and scored 24 runs in their sweep at San Francisco. Milwaukee has now won five of its last six on the road after dropping four of its previous five away from Miller Park.
"We're playing a lot better on the road," manager Ned Yost said. "I think we're past all that. We're just playing good baseball."
All-Star Ryan Braun hit a three-run homer, his 24th of the season, and drove in a career-high five runs Sunday. Braun is batting .391 (18-for-46) with four home runs, five doubles and 13 RBIs in his last 11 games.
He's fared even better against the Cardinals, as he has hit two home runs in each of his last two games against them, and is batting .413 (31-for-75) with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 18 career games versus St. Louis.
The Brewers arrive in St. Louis with a new second baseman, as they acquired Ray Durham from the Giants for two minor leaguers after Sunday's win. Milwaukee already made one of the biggest trades of the season, acquiring CC Sabathia from Cleveland before the All-Star break.
Milwaukee starter Seth McClung (5-5, 4.16 ERA) hasn't pitched badly lately, as he's posted a 3.86 ERA in his three July starts, but he's only received three total runs of support in those games. In his last start on July 12, the right-hander allowed three runs and three hits with a season-high seven strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings of an 8-2 loss to Cincinnati.
This will be McClung's first career start against the Cardinals, but he made two relief appearances against them in April, allowing two hits in four scoreless innings.
St. Louis counters with Joel Pineiro (3-4, 4.52), who has just one victory in his last 11 starts.
In his last start on July 13, Pineiro gave up six runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings of an 11-6 win over Pittsburgh, but was not a factor in the decision.
The right-hander also didn't get a decision in his only start of the season against Milwaukee on May 10, as he gave up two runs and four hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-3 win.