If the Reds are going to claim a spot in the postseason, they'll have to get through the Cardinals first. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are going to have to take on the Pirates and hold off the Reds.
The good news for all three teams is this: They control their own destinies.
Cincinnati will play seven of its next 10 games against St. Louis, starting Monday night at Busch Stadium, where right-hander Mike Leake will square off with lefty Tyler Lyons. For the Cardinals, Monday's game marks a stretch of 13 straight games against the Reds and Pirates.
"They know. We don't have to go out and spell it out for them. We don't have to hold a meeting to tell them this is important. Every game from here on [out] is," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing. We've seen everybody play well against us, and we've seen ourselves play well against everybody. It's time to push, that's it."
Entering this three-game series in St. Louis, the Cardinals are tied with the Pirates atop the National League Central and 2 1/2 games ahead of the Reds, making these head-to-head matchups even more important.
"You'd rather have it like that, versus you depending on somebody else," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
That said, if recent history is any indication, the Reds would probably prefer to face any club but the Cardinals. Cincinnati is 2-6 in its last eight games against St. Louis. Since opening the second half of the 2012 season, the Reds have lost their last six series to the Cardinals, their longest such skid since a stretch of eight straight series losses from June 24, 2003, to Aug. 18, 2004.
The Cardinals have been particularly dominant against the Reds in St. Louis, entering Monday with a 24-3-2 series advantage since the start of the 2003 season.
What's more, the Cardinals' pitching staff has held the Reds to four runs or fewer in 10 of their last 11 meetings, while St. Louis has scored at least 10 runs against Cincinnati four times in a single season for the first time since 1980.
"It's a big series. There's no doubt about it," Reds shortstop Zack Cozart said. "We've got to play better. Hopefully, we go into St. Louis and turn it around and play well and take a series, at least. ... I'm not going to say we need to prove anything to them. We know we're a good team. We've been winning all year on pitching and defense and getting timely hits."
Reds: Leake hoping for less stress
Leake was cruising along in his last start, retiring the first 10 D-backs he faced on Wednesday. But he gave up four runs in the fifth inning, turning an 8-0 lead into something a little too interesting from the Reds' perspective. Leake went on to give up those just those runs on six hits over six innings of work, and Cincinnati escaped with a 10-7 victory.
"Luckily, we had eight runs, and it wasn't too detrimental. It was a tough one," he said. "Being up, 8-0, and then ending up being a stressful game, it stinks. But at least we came out ahead."
• The Reds made several roster moves official on Sunday, placing lefty starter Tony Cingrani on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain. They selected the contract of right-hander Greg Reynolds from Triple-A Louisville to make Sunday's start and placed reliever Jonathan Broxton (right forearm surgery) on the 60-day DL to clear space for Reynolds on the 40-man roster.
Cardinals: Lyons jumps into pennant race
Lyons is getting the start in place of Jake Westbrook, who's on the disabled list with a lower back strain. While the intensity of a postseason chase might seem intense for someone with seven Major League starts to his name, the rookie left-hander seems anything but intimidated.
"It doesn't get much more exciting than that," Lyons said. "Those are as big of games that you can pitch in down the stretch like this against division opponents. It's exciting. It's what you want to do growing up."
Lyons was recalled last week and pitched two scoreless innings in relief on Tuesday. In seven starts this season, he's 2-4 with a 5.35 ERA.
Westbrook, meanwhile, played catch on the outfield grass Sunday morning and hopes to resume throwing off a mound this week. He is eligible to come off the disabled list Sept. 6.
• With 95 RBIs, Brandon Phillips is aiming to become the first second baseman in Reds history to lead the NL in RBIs and the first one with at least 100 RBIs since Joe Morgan drove in 111 in 1976.
• With 19 homers from the second spot in the order this year, Carlos Beltran has set a single-season Cardinals record for round-trippers from the No. 2 hole, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The old mark of 18 was set by Chris Duncan in 2006.