As the pennant races get hotter and hotter, Big League Stew will be there to take a closer look at some of the biggest series taking place.
The Situation: Trailing first-place Cincinnati by two games in the NL Central standings, Phat Albert and Co. hit Queen City for a three-game set.
Previously on: The Cardinals hold a 7-5 edge in the 12 games played between the two teams this season
What's left: A single three-game series from Sept. 3-5 in St. Louis.
For starters: Veteran Chris Carpenter(notes) (12-3, 2.91) faces rookie Mike Leake(notes) (7-3, 3.86) in tonight's series opener, followed by Jaime Garcia(notes)-Johnny Cueto on Tuesday. Adam Wainwright(notes) and Bronson Arroyo(notes) are scheduled for Wednesday's matinee.
• Albert vs. Joey: The NL Central isn't the only thing that hangs in the balance as Joey Votto(notes) (28 HR, 75 RBI, 1.024 OPS) and Albert Pujols(notes) (28 HR, 82 RBI, .984 OPS) are the top two contenders for the NL MVP award. If baseball is truly an individual team game, these two will need to come up with MVP-worthy performances.
(By the way, the last time there was this big of a debate between these two names, Cleveland sportswriters were trying to figure out what to call their surly superstar.)
• You remember Jim, don't you?: If facing Scott Rolen(notes) weren't bad enough for Cardinals fans, the series took on an added dramatic storyline with this morning's news that the Reds had traded for Jim Edmonds(notes), who previously played eight seasons in St. Louis. He's going to see action right away as he's batting fifth and playing center field.
• The perfect alignment: If you're going to go on the road for a tough division series, you might as well enter prepared. If the Reds want to build on their lead, they'll have to topple at least two of the Cardinals' top three pitchers.
What they're saying
Chris Sabo's Goggles: "Remember back in April and May and we were talking about those "must-win" series? The ones where the Reds had to stand up and show that they could contend or - in the early part of the season - show any signs of life? Well, that was all practice. A drill. ... The first must-win series of the 2010 series begins tonight at Great American Ball Park."
Cardinals Diaspora: "No one thought (the Reds) would be up two games on August 9, 2010, primed to absolutely destroy the Cardinals season by Wednesday. It wasn't possible. Maybe in 2011 or 2012, but in 2010 — the Cardinals had too much NOT to win the division.
"But here we are. Sitting on the precipice of disaster. Outside of Busch Stadium where the Cardinals have been an abomination. Waiting to see if the thoughts and hopes we had for this particular team will be validated or exposed as fraudulent optimism pegged on a group of men that are more than willing to take the money and not produce."